Fearful Streets and Burning Hearts in Addis Ababa

I just flew back from Addis Ababa where I have spent the last couple of days attending a meeting. The streets were empty of traffic, as most city residents remained indoors in response to demonstrations and riots that have wracked the city for the past week. At least forty-five civilians are dead, killed in clashes between the police and opposition protestors who charge that the 15 May elections were rigged by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolution Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. It was my first time in Addis and I everyone I encountered was fearful of the ongoing crackdown by the state. I heard of mass arrests, more than ten thousand young men in jail I was told with others claiming that the number was far higher. A young women whose brother was arrested, feared that his punishment might be getting forced to the frontline should war between Ethiopia and Eritrea break out as is seeming more likely by the day. She told me that her mother was in tears daily, dreading the worst for her child, her memories of what happens to people in Ethiopian prisons overcoming any comfort that her daughter and friends tried to provide. I cannot by any stretch of the imagination claim to be deeply knowledgeable on Ethiopia, but I could not escape the feeling I got of it being governed by a state that evokes great fear in its people and that has failed them outside of building wide streets filled with a self regard that gave these poor, brutalised people scant comfort. I hope to return one day when it is more peaceful and I can have the opportunity to discover the city when it is less fearful and when the government is not flexing its muscles.

Why Western Visions of Utopia are Killing Africans

William Easterly writing in Foreign Policy asks: What is utopianism? and goes on to answer that ‘it is promising more than you can deliver. It is seeing an easy and sudden answer to long-standing, complex problems. It is trying to solve everything at once through an administrative apparatus headed by “world leaders.” It places too much faith in altruistic cooperation and underestimates self-seeking behaviour and conflict. It is expecting great things from schemes designed at the top, but doing nothing to solve the bigger problems at the bottom.’ This is the model proposed by the usual idea-challenged and arrogant rock stars alongside their rock star economist partners such as Jeffrey Sachs; all possessed of a feverish utopianism that would have Africans look to them for the solutions to poverty and war. Once again, African Bullets & Honey is home to an anti-Western aid screed. The reason I am so taken with this issue if I may just explain is that I believe fighting the aid industry in its many forms is one of the great moral crusades of our time. Read more of William Easterly’s piece here.

Africans, Woe unto you, ye shall hunger

I am in a sad mood today having just had an argument with someone very close to me and so have been seeing ill portents and darkness everywhere I look. And so this little story on Reuters caught my eye and seeing as I was already feeling kind of messed up, almost reduced me to hot little tears. Yes, I know, it is rather dramatic. It turns out that there is now food being made in factories just for starving Africans. Some of our societies have failed to the point that even food can no longer be taken for granted and charity has become a way of life. Plumpy’nut – made of peanut paste, sugar and a special vitamin – is not being made to feed people in hunger camps, it is being advertised as a charity intervention before starvation really strikes. In other words, preparations must be made for Africans even before they have started starving since it is reliably known that the need will be there sooner or later. “We wanted a product that doesn’t need to be mixed with water and fulfils all nutritional needs; we also believe food should taste good. Maybe that’s a French thing,” says Michel Lescanne, the creator of Plumpy’nut which is made in a ‘picturesque’ village in Northern France. Nutriset, the product’s maker, though formed as a non-profit, has few corporate rivals. With a staff of 50, its turnover is expected to be 15 million euros in 2005, a 50 percent increase on last year. It will produce some 2,500 tonnes of Plumpy’nut that will feed a quarter million children. So there you have it and good luck to them. If African entrepreneurs will not step in to create cheap food products then their countrymen shall either starve or shall provide opportunity for others. African misery is the greatest natural resource in that continent. While people argue about gold and oil, no one notices that there is far more money generated by the humanitarian industry on the basis of African misery than by mining or drilling corporates. It makes me wonder whether Niger has businesspeople at all. See more on Plumpy’nut.

The Love Affair Between the Maasai and the English

Colonialists like their savages savage in a romantic mould. There is a streak of masochism in having your material world dismissed by people who have little but vanity and some sick cows. Colonialists want to believe their subjugated people were worth conquering…they are also good for a shag now and then says AA Gill in the London Times to much hilarity…more>>

Yes, it’s True, There are Slaves in Niger…

So here we have it. The latest call for food aid to an African country is by Niger, which coming under the usual media spotlight has been revealed to be a country in which human bondage is alive and well. Anti-Slavery International, a London-based human group, reckons that there are 43,000 slaves in Niger. These slaves, even when freed, are part of a stigmatized and legally unprotected class to the extent that their former masters or parents’ masters have often laid claim to their property.

Just two years ago, in 2003, Niger amended outlawed slavery, ruling it a crime punishable with up to 30 years in prison. The Economist reports that a chieftain in western Niger, faced with this jail term, offered to free 7,000 slaves held by him and his clansmen in a public ceremony. But the government in the week leading to the March 5th event feared that such a large release of slaves would draw international attention to the filthy trade’s existence in Niger. It declared that slavery does not exist in Niger and the ceremony was cancelled.

The problem gets worse when you consider that slavery also exists in Chad, Mali, Sudan and Mauritania. Woe to those who believe that this trade is at an end as I had for many years. Most of us associate slavery with the transatlantic trade that fed the plantations of the Americas and ended in the 19th century. If only it were so. Slaves still exist and many never left on a ship but were enslaved in Africa.

Of course I need not announce the moral vacuum that exists among us provided there are still people in chains, owned as property by others. I need not ponder why a country such as Niger is suffering famine when it has in its midst such an abundance of evil that has been translated into an economy that is the second poorest on the planet. Surely, in a world whose wealth and security has been enjoyed by those countries with the greatest protection of the individual’s rights, it is not strange that a slaveholding nation should turn to the world to feed and clothe it.

This issue depresses and infuriates me. What am I to do? Where are the Edmund Dene Morels of our time, the African versions especially? We have a Kenyan Nobel Prize winner running around decrying the cutting down of trees; an AU that says that Africa is ready to manage her own problems (with Western cash of course); billions of dollars in aid; Commissions for Africa; rock star concerts to Make Poverty History; a massive evangelical movement that announces to all and sundry that it is proof of a moral awakening; and yet here is slavery alive and well among us.

“For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!”

I just had to put up this interview of my good friend James Shikwati (Director of the Inter Region Economic Network – IREN) who was being interviewed by Der Spiegel on German aid to Kenya. It is not very different from the stuff that has been on these pages often in the past, but I loved it for James’ outraged and uncompromising tone. Click here to go to the interview.

Africans and the European Soul

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Are the Formerly Colonised Set To Colonise Their Colonisers?
(A speculation)

It has come to my delighted attention that African churches are increasingly sending missionaries to the United Kingdom. And that the declining number of British volunteers joining the Catholic priesthood – in Wales for instance – has meant that African priests are increasingly taking over rural parishes. This crisis of belief, if it can be so termed, is so pervasive that churches are closing daily which means that the trend of an Africanised priesthood is only likely to grow. In the cities, London being a fine example, African Protestant and charismatic churches are also growing apace, seeking to emulate their counterparts on the continent.

We are entering an era when the welfare of the European soul shall be in the hands of the African. Europe has always had a peculiar need for Africa as a guiding light to its self awareness. The two, African and European, in the latter’s mind at least, have occupied opposed sides of a binary divide for the last couple of hundred years: black vs. white; stupid as opposed to intelligent; savage vs. civilised; backward vs. forward; lazy vs. industrious…

That Europe has become more secular is public knowledge, as is the rise of state power at the expense of the church. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, recently argued that ‘christianity is close to being vanquished’ and has little influence on government or the public here.

One of the founding ideas of colonialism, and slavery before it, was the state of the soul: Africans were supposed to have none while Europeans were blessed with a hefty, healthy one. But this duality has been turned on its head. No sooner had some wise men in the late nineteenth century concluded that the African indeed did have a soul – a donor driven plot if there was ever one – that Europeans started denying the existence of theirs. As always, our opposed positions had to be maintained.

With its back to the wall, the Catholic Church is now speaking of the need to re-evangelise the West. A meeting of over 100 bishops in 2004, sponsored by the Vatican, discussed a strategy of clergy exchanges to address the crisis. Africans having plentiful manpower in their rapidly growing churches would fill the gap in Europe while small numbers of European clergy provision Africa with their greater pastoral experience. This of course merely represents the last gasp of a European church that is suffering from a colonial hangover and that imagines itself to be the center. The re-evangelising of the West shall not come under its auspices.

The Africans who shall increasingly take up pastoral duties here will be off-shoots of their home churches. They shall reflect a conservatism and syncretism that shall be unlike anything else the European Christian has ever encountered. Gone will be the sleepy little churches that dot the countryside and welcome to the drive to create super churches that lay claim to large areas of their parishioners’ lives. The Nigerian priest in Wales will look toward the African Diaspora in the cities first and then to Nigeria for inspiration of how to conduct his pastoral duties. The local church, low on morale, and the state secularised to the point of ignoring the Christian church as a possible source of opposition (all state eyes will be on the mosque), will offer no counter balance to the most potent African presence there has ever been in Europe. The African evangelist – many who are now being funded by congregations in Africa – will be here to lay claim to the European soul.

Let me try and extend this wild speculation.

Europeans have steadily transformed their institutions into rational-bureaucratic models that are far less reliant on charismatic power than they used to be. The church which historically laid claim to bureaucratic power on the basis of its hold of the charismatic-transcendental realm has seen the both these positions undermined fundamentally. The African church, on the other hand, whether Catholic or Protestant, is only in the early stages of its rise: its claims to domination of the charismatic-transcendental or the soul are unlimited and are supported by more people every year. Soon I suspect its boundaries will begin to bump up against those of the African state which being weak and lacking strong ideological or moral foundations shall be absorbed ever more into it. The church’s innate drive to expand, under the banner of evangelisation, will have a huge impact on Europe. The entry of African priests, immigrants and missionaries will be lead to their domination of the terms under which the soul and its salvation can be approached by individual Christians. No longer will the division between church and state be automatically assumed; no longer will the European state have a beaten and pliant church to co-exist with. It will be dealing with a dominant, dominating force.

Since this is an out-there speculation, surely there is no harm in extending it slightly.

Let us for a minute assume that the increasing pilgrimages by European Christians to churches in Africa is the leading trend of an amazing rebound in the European public’s desire for spiritual nourishment (just look at Madonna and Kabbalah, and the energy of the American southern Baptists). If this happens, as the African church grows in Europe, the binary nature of the two groups shall once again be on show. You will see on one hand an African led soul-revival that shall in effect be the anti-power to the bureaucratic-rational forms of European state power. It shall be power vs. anti-power; state vs. church; and utility vs. transcendence.

The image of Africa in Europe, as a place of darkness, has always relied on more than the image of death and suffering that has been such a large part of its historical experience. This image in the European imagination has been attributed to the African lacking a soul or possessing a perverted one. Now, the growth of the African church in the vacuum left by its European counterpart will overturn this idea of darkness. Africa’s problems, increasingly part of the European public’s ‘we can help and its not fair’ posture, will, in combination with the upsurge in the fortunes of the church, take on a kind of holy aspect.

Meanwhile, Europe’s secularism and tortured anti-materialist, you-can-believe-and-do-anything rhetoric has the effect of consigning it to spiritual darkness or nihilism. And at least one bridge to the light shall be provided by Africans and their churches. From the historical position of Europeans using African misery and ‘savagery’ as a measure of their affluence and ‘civilisation’, we shall move to a Europe whose definition of its fallen soul is reliant ona comparison to Africa’s enlightened one.

Though this will not necessarily mean that the tangible forms of Europe’s state power will be African or answer to Africa’s political institutions, it will nevertheless be a colonisation of the European in that part of the contest that has always mattered the most between this ying and yang relationship: the soul.

That brings this speculation to an end. I enjoyed it seeing as I was procrastinating all afternoon and had no ready access to other entertainments.

Gordon Brown Announces 25.5% of UK Budget To Be Spent On African Aid

(Report from the Reuters Wire Service)

Gordon Brown, Britain’s famously ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer, yesterday announced that aid flows to Africa will be raised from 0.47% of the UK national budget to a whopping 25.5%. This will be effective immediately. Speaking at the Make Poverty Campaign Rally in Trafalgar Square, Brown emotionally announced that for too long Africans have suffered from the injustice of poverty and that a civilised world could not just stand by and do nothing.

“Africans must each have a bowl of maize meal everyday, schools to teach sustainable skills like brick making and condoms in case they feel like a little sex in the afternoon given that jobs are hard to come by and entertainment much in demand,” Brown thundered.

Looking back on the continent’s fifty years of independence, Brown expressed outrage at the poor record of governance that had destroyed so much hope after all the good work that the British had put into places such as Kenya.

“We did a real job helping them deal with terrorists, just like we are trying in Iraq right now,” he said. “In fact we killed more than a 100,000 of them, maimed and tortured scores more and suspended legal protections for another three million … this was the kind of responsible government that was demanded at the time and by jove we supplied it” he added.

Brown lamented the kind of weak-kneed government that the Kenyans presently have, promising that he will leave no stone unturned to help arm the Kenyan army so that it could pursue its disarmament campaign in the northern districts with more effect. “Just look at the job our General Erskine did on those bloody savages” thundered the chancellor.

In attendance was Kenya’s slightly befuddled Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chirau Ali Mwakwere, who nevertheless applauded enthusiastically. He reminded Brown that even though the rains had come this year and there was plenty of food, there was a possibility that they would fail in 2006 meaning that more food aid was needed now. He also lamented the British government’s inefficient delivery of sexual health aids to Kenyans: “How am I supposed to utilise my right to sleep with my wife without getting her pregnant if you do not deliver those condoms?”

Brown was apoplectic with rage that the African right to having safe sex was being betrayed by a callous, consumption obsessed and racist western society. He assured the minister that condoms would be had by all as would all the food, roads, schools, social halls, sports stadiums and clothes required by the deserving poor of Africa.

Africa Needs More Millionares – Not AID Workers

Africans should get off the AID band wagon.

What we need is for Africans leaving school to make profits. We don’t need more NON-Profit organisations!

Imagine how crazy it is for poor nations to have almost everyone getting educated rubbing their hands in excitement at the prospect of spending their lives doing NON-Profit work, when in all rich economies, people clamour to get into business for PROFIT, INNOVATION and ENTERPRISE.

They frantically look for goods or services that people might need, and fight for venture capital financing by proving that their idea will use the least money and produce the most profit!

We on the other hand have such gaping holes in our markets for all sorts of goods and services and yet the NOT-for -Profit route is what appeals to many of us. Call it intellectual sloth, or perhaps it is just being rational to choose the perks of NGO employment. But if the primary unit of economic activity and growth is individual economic growth, then we need as many people making profits (i.e. trying to find the most efficient way of spending our country’s savings to create more wealth) for our economy to grow.

We have to reject AID and encourage entrepreneurship and provide incentives for business in our countries.

In non-profit work and in government ventures the measure of success is how much money has been spent on a project (you often hear politicians bragging about the size of the project in terms of spending as they doll out taxpayers’ money – it is never their personal money).

On the other hand, the measure of success in a for-profit venture is invariably the size of the difference between what was made and what was spent, and the expectations of future profits when people buy company shares. The aspiration is to increase efficiency, find better ways to do things – faster, easier, cheaper – so that customers remain dedicated to their products. (There are benefits for everyone: owner, employees and customers)

We need to regard our problems as profit making opportunities rather than angles with which to beg from the West. That means getting off the paternalism of Western charity so that we can own and solve our problems.

Martin Luther King and Hope

I have just watched a BBC program called ‘Days That Shook the World’ which today explored the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Whenever I have encountered MLK in the media, I have always come away newly struck by his power and the hope that he faced the world with. I was not born when he was killed, and am far too prone to indulge in a kind of cynical politics that never survives a single sentence he uttered. I went looking for what I think was his greatest speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, which was made the night before he was murdered by James Earl Ray. Listening to it, I am left to wonder about what place hope has the collective of individuals and communities that are Kenya. It makes me ponder what social spaces we own that allow us to create transcendent communities in the sense that they can exist in a spirit of fairness and justice despite all the obstacles in our paths. It is quite soppy to write in this fashion but as always, after listening to MLK I felt deeply the suffering and hope that attended black people in their awful march through American history. It gave me a sense of the scale of the revolutionary triumph that the Civil Rights Movement represented. And the extent to which in those years – and perhaps even in these – black people became a community made holy by its being larger than the sum of its oppressions and disadvantages. If only I could dare hope that Kenya too is marching in similar fashion through its dark days but toward brightness and with hope a constant companion. I suspect this is the case or at the very least I pray it is.

Listen to Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

Andrew Mwenda on the Impact of Foreign Aid on Uganda

I recently watched a documentary on the BBC by Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan radio journalist and Museveni opponent, which analysed Uganda’s relationship with aid. Uganda has been presented as an aid success story by donors and its government, and has even had its debt cancelled in the past. Half of its budget comes from foreign aid and President Museveni was famously announced by Thabo Mbeki and Bill Clinton to be part of an African renaissance in good governance. Read on for the reality…

Andrew Mwenda:

“I was excited when I heard that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had set up a commission to research solutions to the problems afflicting Africa – I felt it was an opportunity to breathe new ideas into the debate on Africa’s backwardness.

However I was disappointed.

After months of work they came up with the same old mantras: doubling aid, cancelling debt and reducing trade tariffs and subsidies.

They’re ignoring reality. For the last 40 years, Africa’s been getting more, not less, aid – we’ve received more than $500bn. But we are getting poorer not richer.

Let me show you, through the experience of my homeland Uganda how these recommendations don’t – and won’t – work.

Donor support

Uganda is considered one of Africa’s economic success stories. Yet we rely on foreign aid for nearly half the country’s budget.

You would assume that Uganda cannot fund its own development. But that’s not the case.

The government has got money, but chooses to spend it on political patronage and its army. It doesn’t even collect the taxes it is owed.

Allen Kagina, the Commissioner General of Uganda’s tax authority, acknowledges that Uganda collects only a fraction of the tax it could.

Uganda was forgiven its debts… as a consequence, government indulged itself in very luxurious expenditure… and invaded Congo and Sudan

She does believe the URA could fund the national budget – it would be “difficult but it is achievable.” And she also said that Uganda should aim to reduce donor support.

But Tony Blair is talking of doubling aid to Africa. Yet some African economies are so small that the amount of aid they’re getting is already skewing the economy.

Foreign aid enriches politicians, bureaucrats and aid workers, whose consumption fuels inflation.

The Ugandan government is receiving so much foreign aid that the economy is unable to absorb it. Treasury bills have to be used to suck the money out of the system. As a result, the Central Bank is holding $700m in treasury bills, and the interest on that per annum is $120m – which is incurred by the tax payer.

All in all, a very expensive exercise.

Fair trade

Uganda’s Finance Minister Dr Ezra Suruma said the country does consider finding better ways of managing aid to be “very important”.

“The problem is what we do with it – whether we invest or consume it,” she added.

“We need to invest more in equipment, technology, infrastructure and so on. Aid must be properly used to increase our capacity to produce more income.”

And what of Blair’s other proposal, fair trade?

Changing tariffs and subsidies in Europe and the USA will not lift Africa’s business out of the doldrums.

Again, why don’t we learn our lesson? This has been tried already and hasn’t worked.
Under the Cotounou Agreement for preferential trade with Europe, for example, Uganda has a quota to export 50,000 metric tons of sugar to the European Union – duty free.

But it’s never been fulfilled. In fact, not even one kilogram of Ugandan sugar has been exported to the EU. We can’t even grow enough sugar in Uganda to satisfy the domestic market.

It’s the domestic environment that holds trade expansion back.

At Ugachick – which produces 400,000 chicks each month and produces meat which it sells both in Uganda and surrounding countries – managing director Aga Sekalala wants to expand – but he needs affordable credit, and with interest rates up to 18% this is not available.

Then there’s the physical infrastructure.

Last week someone stole the electric cable linking Ugachick to the grid. It took five days to fix it, and it only happened then because Ugachick provided the manpower to carry the poles.

“The infrastructure, the roads, power – all of this is our headache, when it should be the government’s,” he said.

Entrepreneurs like Aga should be the engines for creating wealth in Uganda.

If he expanded, so would his contributions to the revenue. He’s energetic and ready to move forward.

But there is no imperative for the government to help him. Any financial gap in the budget, and they only need to turn to the international donors to fill it.

Unsustainable debt

If only foreign aid could be shifted from lining corrupt politicians’ and bureaucrats’ pockets to developing private enterprise, then Africa would have hope.

And what of the third of the Blair Commission proposals – debt cancellation? Many people think that debt cancellation is a clear cut solution to Africa’s indebtedness.

But think again. Common sense tells you it’s wrong to reward bad economic behaviour.

My friend Ben Kavuya, a money lender here in Kampala, deals with bad debtors by taking their property, their collateral.

He believes if you forgive bad debts it teaches bad lessons, creating a culture of defaulting. That’s certainly exactly what happened with Uganda.

In 1998 Uganda was forgiven its debts through the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.

As a consequence, government indulged itself in very luxurious expenditure – increasing the size of Parliament – and invaded Congo and Sudan.

And not only that, it went on a renewed borrowing spree and today, seven years later, Uganda’s debt has more than doubled and now it is unsustainable.

Parliament is so foreign aid-dependent that even the chairs and desks are funded by Denmark.

And worse, with so much of our country’s budget in the hands of the foreign aid donors, the power of Ugandan voters to hold our government to account has been usurped by international creditors – precisely because he who pays the piper calls the tune.

In this way, foreign aid undermines democracy.

Foreign aid does not help the poor out of their misery – it exacerbates their problems and prolongs their agony.

Taxpayers in the west should not be asked to pay to keep corrupt and incompetent governments in power.”

Story from BBC NEWS

Choking on Aid Money in Africa

I just had to share these two links:

Choking on Aid Money in Africa
By Erich Wiedemann and Thilo Thielke
DER SPIEGEL 27/2005 – July 4, 2005
URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,363604,00.html

Does aid work? Yes – for Britain
By Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie

Handy Advice if You Are About to Apply For a Food Aid Job

A few years ago, I read Michael Maren’s The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity and it fundamentally changed my attitude to aid. The book should be required reading for every literate person and I highly recommend it. Peter Uvin’s Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda is just as important a read. Uvin demonstrates how NGOs and other aid organisations contributed to the strength and survival of a Rwandan regime that turned genocidal in 1994. Last, but certainly not least, is Graham Hancock’s Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business which is the classic in this small, but critical genre. Below is a speech by Michael Maren delivered to a group of Cornell University graduate students who were preparing to work in international development during the early 1990s.

The Food-Aid Racket

by Michael Maren

As you prepare for and look forward to careers in international development, I am compelled to issue a warning. With the hindsight of someone who spent five years in the development business, I’m going to tell you that the development industry hurts people in the developing world. Its greatest success has been to provide good jobs for Westerners with graduate degrees from institutions like this one. I don’t expect that any of you will take my advice and start looking for careers elsewhere. AndI’m in no position to criticize you for going ahead and working in development even after you hear me out. You see, I had a pretty wonderful career in the aid business. I can’t remember ever having more fun. In fact, I was having so much fun that I didn’t want to stop, even after I realized that our programs were hurting the very people they were supposed to help.

In 1980, when I was twenty-five years old, I was hired by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to administer food-for-work programs–programs that feed people in exchange for their work on local development projects–in Kenya. I was given a beautiful garden apartment in a nice neighborhood in Nairobi, a brand-new Land Cruiser, a great office, and almost a million dollars in a U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) grant to oversee the programs. As I began the job, shiploads of U.S. government surplus rice were leaving a port in Texas and heading to Mombasa. Meanwhile, CRS notified the country’s parish priests and government officials that this rice was available. All they had to do to receive it was fill out a one-page application describing their proposed project and specifying the number of “recipients”–the number of the project’s workers who would receive sacks of rice in exchange for their labor. Thousands of applications were submitted.

I took some of the U.S. AID money and customized the Land Cruiser, adding extra-large fuel tanks and a really nice stereo system, and then I set off across Kenya to inspect the proposed projects. It was a dream come true. I was driving absolutely free across one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. I was so awestruck by my own good luck that sometimes I’d stop in the middle of a huge empty wilderness, or beside a herd of giraffes or elephants, and just yelp with delight.

I was having so much fun running around starting food-for-work projects–water projects, agriculture projects, forestry projects–that I completely overlooked the most obvious problem: I knew nothing about agriculture, forestry, road building, well digging, dam building, or any of the projects I was approving. But nobody seemed to care. Only once did anyone in authority at CRS ever go and look at a project. When I’d return to Nairobi every few weeks, my boss, who let me work completely unsupervised, had only one question: How many more recipients did you sign on? More recipients meant more government grant money, which meant we could buy more vehicles and hire more assistants.

When I slowed down for a moment to consider what was happening, it became clear: aid distribution is just another big, private business that relies on government contracts. Private voluntary organizations (PVOs) such as CRS are paid by the U.S. government to give away surplus food produced by subsidized U.S. farmers. The more food CRS gave away, the more money they received from the government to administer the handouts. Since the securing of grant money is the primary goal, PVOs rarely meet a development project they don’t like.

Of all the aid programs, those involving food delivery are especially prized by PVOs because they generate income, are easy to administer, and are warmly received by the public. Yet most food aid has little to do with need and everything to do with getting rid of surplus food. Kenya was not a country facing starvation when I worked there. Many of the projects I started were in the rich agricultural land of the central and western parts of the country. In fact, around the world, only about 10 percent of food aid is targeted at emergency situations. PVOs publicize situations such as the one in Somalia in order to raise money from the public, but most of their work is done in areas where there is plenty to eat, because there are simply not enough starving people to absorb all of our surplus food. Also, it’s easier to distribute large quantities of food in more developed areas.

Harmless as this might at first sound, sending food to areas where there is already food creates serious problems. It decreases demand for locally produced commodities, subsidizes the production of cash crops, and fosters dependence among those who receive the aid. Since PVOs can only operate with the approval of the host government, they typically end up supporting the government leaders’ political goals, rewarding the government’s friends, punishing its enemies, and providing fodder for a vast system of political patronage.

That’s exactly what happened in Somalia, where the government and the generals had been playing games with food aid for more than a decade before the Marines arrived. I was working for U.S. AID in Somalia in 1981, when we started pumping food into that country. It was clear to many of us, even then, that the program was working to prop up a corrupt dictator and turn nomads into relief junkies. Refugees poured over the borders and into camps, where they were fed day after day, year after year, by PVOs, while little effort was made to break their growing dependence. In 1987 a World Food Program report stated that Somalia had actually produced a surplus of food that year, yet PVOs continue to distribute free food and collect U.S. government money for administering the delivery. Inevitably, indigenous food-distribution networks withered and died. The country’s economy adapted to foreign aid–not to production. Meanwhile, the PVOs and corrupt government officials got fat and rich.

No one questions private voluntary organizations. Not the U.S. government, which needs to get rid of the food and wants to keep its aid bureaucracy functioning. Not the host government, whose officials often profit from the aid racket. Not the public, which sees aid workers as so many Mother Teresas. And not the press–especially not the press–which has, in recent years, become an integral part of the aid system.

The press’s role in that system is to convey to the West the PVOs’ view of Africa. And because the distribution of food aid is first and foremost a business, it is not surprising that the priorities of aid organizations dominate the West’s image of the continent–an image of helpless nations in need of our support.

This is not a new phenomenon. Aid workers are simply the latest in a series of recent western vanguards in Africa, each of whom put forward the image of Africa that best suited its own interests. The first Europeans to form a vanguard in Africa were the naturalists. Because of them, early European views of Africa emphasized the continent’s natural history. Later, as missionaries began to outnumber explorers, Europe began to see the continent through the eyes of those who were out to save its soul. And as Europe developed political and mercantile interests in Africa, merchants and traders were at the vanguard. At that time, Europeans were concerned with turning Africans into loyal subjects, workers, producers, and citizens of empires. No one really worried about feeding them.

Historically, the press has been willing to uncritically accept whatever image of Africa the western vanguard has been selling. In the case of the PVOs, the press has bought their line because reporters are as dependent on aid organizations as the organizations are on them. It would have been impossible, for example, for the press to cover Somalia without the assistance of PVOs. There’s no Hertz counter at the Mogadishu airport, and no road maps available at gas stations. If a journalist arrives in Africa from Europe or the United States and needs to get to the interior of the country, PVOs are the only ticket. journalists sleep and eat with PVO workers. When they want history and facts and figures, they turn to the PVOs. In press coverage of Somalia or almost any other crisis in Africa, it is always the PVOs who are most often quoted and are regarded as the neutral and authoritative sources–as if they have no vested interest in anything but the truth.

A typical example of the connection between journalism and the aid system is this analysis from a February 22, 1993, story about Africa in the New York Times:

The greatest danger now to Mozambique’s tranquillity, almost everyone agrees, is Mozambique’s tranquillity.

Lacking scenes of carnage and starvation to disturb Western television audiences, Mozambique is having trouble competing for attention with Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.

The article goes on to quote numerous CARE officials whose primary concern is to raise more money to give more aid to Mozambique. The article never considers any alternatives to aid. No aid worker raises the possibility, for example, that Mozambique’s economy might improve if the country focused on exporting goods. No one mentions that in the absence of carnage, Mozambique might be a good place to invest. No one is talking about creating permanent employment for Africans. The only discussion is about raising more money to send experts there and preserve the jobs of expatriates and create more jobs for graduate students from programs like this one. The people who are called upon to diagnose and comment on Africa’s problems are the very people who stand to profit from the diagnoses.

I know that you don’t want to be part of this problem. You’ll tell me that you can change all of this, that you want to work within the bureaucracy to reform the bureaucracy. But in a couple of years you’re going to be in Ouagadougou or Gaborone making a very good salary. The years will pass and you’ll find yourself with two kids in an expensive private school in New England, and you’re going to have perfected skills that aren’t very useful outside of the Third World. You’re going to think about quitting, about raising hell, but you won’t be able to. Because by then you, too, will have become part of the never-ending cycle of aid.

Harper’s Magazine Foundation 1993
Harper’s Magazine
August, 1993

Go to http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,363604,00.html to read Choking on Aid Money in Africa by Erich Wiedemann and Thilo Thielke in Der Spiegel.

The Ritualistic Cynicism of African Bullets & Honey Navel Gazers

There is a certain Anonymous who has been peppering the comments section with a wake-up-you-navel-gazers message. Below are his or her latest reactions to my cynical take on Live8 and the Make Poverty History campaign.

Anonymous said…
You forgot to mention that all this was inspired by Jeffery Sachs’ report to the UN (he’s the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is also Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals)?

…but then it’s only generally accepted that he’s the world’s foremost expert on such things as poverty in Africa.

Of course you guys know better than him…

I’m sure he & Kofi Annan are really secretly planning to take over the world…

No more excuses…

Anonymous said…
While academic armchair revolutionaries like some on this thread try to out do each other on a new cynical take on the debt effort people are actually dying. Look closely and there is no difference between the politicians and their tired begging and the navel gazers ritualistic cynicism.

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comments. I am struggling to understand what you have against a little navel gazing or even being an armchair-bound academic – in fact I dare say that it is usually the best place for academics. But I do understand that you are moved by the urgency of the situation, “people are dying” and here I am dithering, questioning, doubting and opposing those like Jeffrey Sachs and Kofi Annan who daily express their concern and outline the latest plan to save Africa. The situation is urgent, but not for increased aid. The urgent task is for Africans to face their governments and demand the kind of leadership we need. The priority is for us to fight for rules of the game that allow us to create more wealth outside the purview of overly centralised governments that keep bulking up at the expense of the citizen due to the constant flow of aid monies into them. For me to argue that Kenya’s leaders – for instance – should stop begging is no excuse. It reflects my conviction that the present course amounts to a kill-me-slowly agenda. For the past few decades – not to even speak of the period since the late nineteenth century – matters have gotten steadily worse in many parts of the continent despite the relentless talk of aid and foreign salvation.

Even your helpful outlining of Jeffrey Sachs resume, meant I suppose to shut me up through the sheer weight of title and prestige, leaves me totally unshaken in my position. If anything it convinces me even more that our destiny left in his hands and of those like him will lead to nothing but more pain. Sachs is that self involved, spotlight seeking creature that Africa has had its fill of; the kind that one writer described as “revolutionaries with a return ticket home”. This is the messiah who ‘saved’ Bolivia, Poland and Russia and has now decided that he will do the same for Africa and the environment – even Jesus would have balked at the work rate. He represents a rent-seeking agenda: issuing from his mouth will always be demands for more foreign aid and more western involvement in Africa because he knows this is what keeps him in the game. The aid business is just that, a business.

Look carefully, and just behind Bono and Geldof are the aid agencies – such as those run by Kofi Annan – and NGOs all promoting new solutions for Africa and playing up the guilt game for all its worth. Africa crises have become the perfect fundraiser. From a few hundred 4×4 driving, high earning aid expats in the 60s to over 25,000 today, the size of the effort keeps growing in direct proportion to the size of African poverty. In May, the World Bank reported that 40% of aid budgets are spent on consultants alone. Of the $50 billion in overseas development aid, consultants make off with $20 billion. Just add to that the cost of running offices and hiring permanent staff, not to mention the five-star hotels, constant travel to exotic locales for conferences and other lavish perks. Action Aid weighed in as well, reporting that almost half of aid is spent before the money even gets to Africa.

You are correct Anonymous: the time for excuses is past. Excuses that there is not enough aid; that our people are too ignorant and unproductive to help themselves; and that without the help of the Sachs and Geldofs of the world we are doomed. They are poor excuses, made too often by the very people who benefit from us remaining mired in poverty and at war. If only that starving kid with the snotty nose and the distended belly knew how many people depend on him for their careers and much needed moral uplift. If he only knew how many westerners he has lifted out of poverty and the multitudes he has supplied a cause. I wish he would feel the awesome swell of the ego that is felt by every passing rock star and Hollywood actress who uses him as a photo op so that he can know that they may be feeding him but that he too is giving them something that they crave.

Finally Anonymous, what is the price and place of pride? Pride in the sense of confidence in one’s innate capacity to be independent and able to thrive. Surely it is this feeling that underlies all achievement, all survival and every demand for justice. Where it has collapsed, the cause has been human – often governmental. It therefore seems to me that the recovery of this sense of independence, this pride, will by necessity involve a showdown between people and their leaders. But the latter would rather direct their people’s attention to outsiders, offering the alternate hope that there is no need to become independent since the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General is on the case anyway.

Some Combative Comments On ‘Those Who Would Steal African Humanity’ Post

I thought that some of the comments made about my last post, Live8 and Those Who Would Steal African Humanity, were provocative and fun. It proved to be quite unpopular with some readers, which is all good but I am anxious to hear what Africa means to you.

It seems to me that Africa is more an idea than a place for Africans and non-Africans alike. It has never really been a place as much as it has been a type of darkness, a nightmare, a project and a cause. Of course there are many in Africa who are poor or starving or are the victims of horrific political violence, but these afflictions only confirm what has been thought of Africa since the period of slavery and colonialism. When King Leopold II of Belgium murdered over 10 million Congolese between 1880 and 1920, effectively halving the population, he claimed to be saving them from their wretchedness and poverty. I mention this not to claim that this is the goal today, but rather to emphasize that Africa as a hell has been an old idea that was used enthusiastically to dominate and exploit its occupants. Now it is an idea being trotted out in the very countries that just a few decades ago ruled it: this time to save us.

See I did not grow up in Africa. I grew up in very specific places: Ngummo Estate, Mombasa, Lenana School, Kibera and Westlands. I became African only at specific moments, most very rhetorical and sentimentalised. The Nairobi I consider my home town is full of poverty, but that is only one aspect of it. In the worst slums are flexible, assertive and innovative people. The demands of life are too urgent for anyone to seat around and wait for Geldof’s consciousness raising. Nairobi, outside of its growing NGO aid junkies, is not waiting for Geldof’s or the West’s attentions. Everyone is trading, making use of every shred of skill and effort that they possess. Trading, dealing, morphing into whatever ethnic, religious, sexual, national being that will confer the most advantage at particular moments. Nairobi, I find despite its crime and poverty, is innately a hopeful place. So many of my relatives have migrated there with nothing but an address and are now working and producing wealth for themselves. They would appear to be poor, and believe themselves to be so, but they are building lives and their hopes rest on their own abilities and not the government or the donors. If anything, the government is their constant roadblock: they encounter it at every turn with its corruptions, red tapes and oppressions.

Anonymous said…
While we wait for the revolution to be televised, what harm is there in getting a few dollars that we would never have seen anyway?

MMK said…
Ah yes, why not indeed get the aid cash and run? Because there is nothing for free. An entire generation of Africans has grown up begging and I think this has killed much greatness and potential. Aid is pennies on the dollar when compared to the money that a people with a sense of ownership over their lives would make. Just look at the flow of remittances by Africans outside the continent and those sending money from the cities to the rural areas for instance, it dwarfs aid flows by several factors.

Anonymous said…
An interesting perspective. Would it be better if the west just left Africa to its own devices? I thought part of the G8 aims is to enable fair trade by lifting the west’s imposed restrictions and opening the markets for African produce.

Not Glossy said…
Insightful commentary, thank you. It would appear though that celebrities have all the answers for us (everyone)… and thus we have no need for thought or even true debate.

Fred said…
MMK, I’ve read some of your stuff and watched your BBC debate today with the other Martin of Save the Children. Yes, you have a point. Of course we have to live with the fact of life, that there is no such thing as free lunch. Yes, it’s about music, exhibitionism and megalomania – but it is also about harnessing non-official Western resources and tapping on what they love best (e.g. music) for a good cause. They might as well do the same for gay rights, gender parity, and climate change so if they choose to do it for Africa, why is it a problem? It may be a simplistic approach, but it is welcome. It should be part of a concerted effort. It would be foolish to consider this as a panacea. Africans should also put pressure locally on their politicians like Biwott and Uhuru to give up part of their ill-gotten and unfairly acquired wealth, including cash stashed abroad in banks and investments not to mentions the thousands of acres owned by the Kenyatta family and generations of white settlers like the Delamares. OFM, Lecturer, CU.

andy said…
This is wonderful writing. It reminds me of the people who I met when I went to Africa in 1989. They were (and are) people of wisdom and immense capability that we in the west should learn from. They were they kind of people who could face and solve problems. At the time they were standing up against apartheid (and for a new future). Now they are leaders in the new South Africa. I just wish I could get on a plane and go spend more time with them. I think I visited your blog once before and didn’t make it back. This time I’ll mark the spot and be sure to return again.

el pupo said…
just a note to say I *love* your blogging.

owukori said…
The West has appropriated everything African for the past 500 years – now as you say even Africa’s problems. Excellent post and look forward to more

Anonymous said…
Am I missing something here? Pennies on the dollar are better than no pennies at all?
Arguably it would be better if Africans took control of their own affairs and created great potential. Newsflash – they have failed to do so for the past 30-40 years! So while we wait for the revolution, we will gladly accept the few pennies that your revolution has failed to supply. Who has chosen to get the fish instead of learning to fish?

Anonymous said…
Africans do not hold the exclusive rights and monopoly suffering and exploitation. It is interesting to see Africans argue for their place in this category given the fact that they have failed spectacularly to address their economic, social and political status in the past 30-40 years.

andy said…
Interesting anonymous comments…
1. The “failure” that you speak of really involves a relatively short period of time, considering that it took the Western world centuries to develop the political economies that you see today.
2. The “failure” dates back to just after the end of the colonial period. Are you thinking, “Look what a great and wonderful boost that colonialism gave to Africa? Why didn’t you make more of it?” Perhaps you don’t understand African history, or you just think African history is a subset of Western history (sort of a poor, handicapped version that is embarrassing the rest)?
3. You say Africans have failed to take control of their own affairs but ignore the point: that the West has never released control to Africans. That’s the point here (the control is tightening further).
4. You speak of spectacular failures, but in fact there are many spectacular successes in Africa. Those should be brought to light, though people who wallow in ignorance seldom learn anything that is uncomfortable or truly new.

dt said…
Great article!
Reading the comments thus far, perhaps the greatest challenge faced by the continent both from within and without is the tendency to lump all the countries together rather than address each country in its individuality. Even when Africans themselves speak, they speak as though they are a whole. You don’t hear such grouping coming from other continents. Singaporeans refer to themselves as Singaporeans not as Asians or South East Asians. Same goes for a British. He/she refers to him/herself as a Brit not as a European, or an indigene of the European continent. Last I checked not ALL African nations are poverty stricken with children dropping dead from the commonest causes. People talk of the ‘African problem’ the solution seekers in turn mouth its corollary the ‘African solution’. Africans themselves commit the same error in judgement; Africa is not one country for crying out loud! Perhaps what we really need is a great lesson on the axiom ‘every man to himself/every country to herself’ Perhaps if each man was left to his demise, he would think up the best means for his survival. With regards to your insightful piece, may I add that no one has stolen Africa’s humanity. It is us who handed it to them on a silver platter by the vice of not understanding the why’s of our very own existence. After all, like the old saying goes, “When you fail to think, someone else will do it for you”

MMK said…
It was a lot of fun going on the BBC and I offered up a much harder position that I usually adopt because I felt that a sceptical African voice was needed on the day. When I arrived at the studio, I met with Wangari Maathai – the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate – who is a wonderful person but who sadly was mouthing the same old begging sounds that every prominent African seems to make automatically.

DT – You could not be more correct. Africa is not a single country. But it is taken to be a blank slate on which anyone can write whatever they wish. The aid mongers, the West and our governments have mostly preferred to treat Africa as a space of unceasing suffering and helplessness. This is what keeps the monies flowing.

Andy – Ah, yes, the historical perspective is crucial. Just reading history, of whatever region, it becomes clear that war and corruption have been the rule rather than the exception and that the development of prosperity and peace has been a lengthy road.

Anonymous said…
Let get real, spheres of control are multifaceted; those spheres were most African governments have the ability to affect the have failed in a spectacular manner. You know the classic comparison case, the one between Ghana and Malaysia; you know the one about them being practically identical in all economic/health indicators in 1958 when they acquired independence from the same British government. The same economic/health indicators are not remotely comparable now 40 years later. One country has made huge economic gains while the other is still wallowing in abject poverty and is considered a success case when compared with its neighbours. I will let you guess which country is which. Maybe while you’re at it you can explain how the English never let go of the reigns of power and that is why Mugabe is busy laying millions of his fellow country men destitute by flattening their homes, the Zimbabwean form of ethic cleansing, perhaps those evil colonialists have been running round the country side in Darfur killing and raping. The Belgians are the ones that run amok in Rwanda and murder close to a million folks. Hey, it was those evil westerners that emptied the state coffers of most countries in Africa in the tune of billions of dollars. Those animals, they just gave Museveni the right to go over the Ugandan constitution and give himself one more term as president. These animals they are relentless, they made Mswati of Swaziland want to spend money on a presidential plane that was more than the countries budget on education. See, you understand that these Africans are innocent hapless children who despite their best efforts can not make any positive decisions, the west has robbed and beaten them into murderous, thieving but well meaning people. Like Children who have no understating of consequences of their actions these Africans can not be held responsible for failing to make any positive change in those little things they could change.

lex said…
Your argument is nothing but a string of eloquent self pity. Whilst it is obvious that Live8 or a decision to abolish debt will not make Africa’s plight disappear, the Western attempt should not go unwelcomed. Yes, there is no such thing as a free meal, but this constant banter about the thievery of ‘African humanity’ clearly reeks of a wounded pride. Whatever the West may have done in the past, its current attempts with Live8 can only be seen as a positive. Allowance for support nurtures the path to recovery – your desperate grip on all the suffering and struggle that has happened only adds to its suffocation. And all for what? To fulfil some arrogant self indulgent fantasy about overcoming the apparent ‘inverse inferiority’?

MMK said…
Lex – Methinks you misunderstand what I am trying to say. If anything, I am railing against the self pity of those in Africa who come to the West cap in hand attempting to parlay African poverty into an opportunity to gain Western charity. Their efforts are mirrored by a self serving aid industry and the appetite to turn the African into a cause and nothing more by a growing stable of rock stars and politicians. I am not about wounded pride, but I also know that pride is an absolute requirement if Africans are to triumph over their problems. I see this pride everytime I am home and I see it compromised and attacked daily by the beggary of our leaders. Surely Lex, you can join me in recognising that at the end of the day Africa’s march to wealth and stability will come from African effort. Live8 and similar efforts are an attempt to get around this fact. What recovery is this that you speak of? Aid has been in the card for decades, always with new strategies for “accountability, transparency and results” but this has never worked. The only wealth that has been built by aid has been among aid workers and local political elites. The poor, if anything have grown in number. So should I be grateful for this latest effort?

Critical Mass Vancouver said…
I think “Make Poverty History” is a pretty arrogant catchphrase. But there is so free lunch, and idealism is not stupid. All energy is of the sun, literally, and it never stops. I don’t think that honour is really such a wonderful thing. I don’t think that we do much useful by speaking of people in anti-democratic situations as a ‘nation’. I don’t know much about Africa except imperial history and genocide history. My part of the world, in Vancouver unceded Coast Salish Territory, the Aboriginal people were very rich because it is very green and rains a lot. I don’t think that Africa is really such a poor place. So much wealth flows from there and many believe it is the cradle of humankind. But it is a truism from the TV that there are starving babies in Africa which everybody already knows about OR nobody can do anything about it anyway. I wish your criticism was less about a media personality of this single unified/disunified entity called Africa whose honour and ownership of the problems have been besmirched. I think it should say that this is another straightforward attack under the deception of aid. It is about disempowering billions of people. Or it should be more positive and say that we should not be so simplistic and not assume the stupid things the Rock Stars say for the cameras, but every bit counts and lets make work what we have. Get specific and get less media spectacle more community. Anyway I just worry that while you are speaking truth to power you are not contradicting the worst part: that nothing can change. They kill optimism by overusing it and invoking it in a way that, beyond the shallowest sense, will evaporate under the weight of reality. You kill optimism by mostly being critical of their naive idealism. Let’s focus more on the Fair/Free Trade issues rather than the charity. Debt cancellation is not Charity but legally required in the case of onerous debt [that debt, which is in many cases the type of debt in Africa, where a dictator or other unaccountable ran up the bill and now the majority are expected to pay for what wasn't their will]. I think it would be great to be more critical of specific western colonial nations and get them to change their policy. Like American Drug companies or European Manufacturers that suck out raw materials and keep the value added activity in Europe. But I know almost nothing about this stuff, solidarity is a good thing but a locals need to lead. I think that the rock stars can perhaps be reformed to see this. There are no limits to their ignorance because of how they are sheltered on a pedestal. But mostly they are just trying to help and if someone with a more thoughtful program asked them they would prefer to help with that. It seems that the Live 8 is somewhat ‘better’ than the 1980s version which was only about aid, not the debt and fair trade. Those are facts that are already known in the television sphere. Why not pin that tail. Is it really such ‘progress’? Or is the assumption still about a kind of charity superiority racism as you contend. Anyway, good to see a thoughtful blog, keep it up!

Z said…
How can you condemn people for trying to create a fairer world? This isn’t about charity, it isn’t about ‘saving Africa’ it’s about extending a hand of friendship, not laying claim to Africans problems but recognising them and saying you’re not alone. People are tired of giving aid, seeing that it makes no permanent change, Live 8 is about changing trade laws to help, instead of hindering African economic growth, not just aid and debt relief. From where I was standing, I thought the point was to tell the world the truth, educating people, showing them just how complicated the whole situation is, am I wrong? There are people who want to give money for their own sense of moral self-righteousness, that’s true. There are also people who just want to help, people who’ve done their share of soul searching, triumphed over their own demons, and in the end just want the people of, not just Africa, but anyone else who’s ever suffered for whatever reason, to know that whatever you think of the rest of the world, some people in it actually give a shit. Stop being so damn cynical and realise that some people just want to help, even if they can’t or don’t know how, when something like this happens they go along with it and they do whatever they can to support it, just because it can be interpreted as ‘an exercise in white, Western megalomania’ doesn’t mean every person in that crowd is there for their own self gratification, like I said, some might just happen to give a crap as well.

Anonymous said…
A quick reminder for our Anglo-Saxon musicians and politicians: HISTORY MAKES POVERTY, union jackasses-


Live8 and Those Who Would Steal African Humanity

Word on the street is that Gordon Brown, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer will march with protestors in the ‘Long Walk to Justice’. So who and what precisely will they be marching against? Poverty?

This is simply an exercise in white, Western megalomania. Now that the age of empire has passed for these British Isles, now that the economic consensus will brook no extremes of the right or left variety, now that there are no great foes to contend with, there are only two extreme conditions that remain in a world that has moved to the ‘middle’: Western self aggrandizement and African suffering. To the liberals and assorted ‘put Africa right’ brigades, they exist at the centre of the moral universe. Africans shall live or die according to their wishes. Now we are to be saved, but it could be just the opposite as it has been in times past.

They will be marching to display the rude health of their souls and to confirm their power and magnanimity over the huddled, miserable wretches of Africa. The monies that they give, no doubt in the billions of dollars, will be used to maintain and extend a vast system of spiritual and material privilege. Every dollar shall confirm their superiority and the inverse inferiority of the African. And of course because they are a pragmatic people, each dollar shall be used to employ that army of aid workers who would otherwise be flipping burgers or working in retail. Statistics will be thrown about with wild abandon. Eyes will get misty at the thought of ‘30,000 children dying everyday of extreme poverty’. Pledges will be made by mouths set grimly in the emotion of the moment. The rhetoric will be high flown and every speech will include words like Humanity, Universal, We, Justice, Suffering, History, Community, Brotherhood…

These words will be used to strip Africans of their problems in the name of brotherhood. Geldof and company will lay claim to the very last thing so many Africans own: our problems. And it will be terrible and evil beyond imagining for owning your problem is at the heart of what it is to be human. It is when we wrestle and suffer and triumph over our problems that we are most human, but this alas is not to be if the soul stealers on show succeed. I do not want anyone to suffer needlessly. I would prefer everyone to live in a democratic, prosperous community that knows no war or want. But these are conditions that must be battled and struggled for; they have never arrived as a gift from a stranger. And all those who promise them have always turned out to be thieves or murderers if not both. Geldof and the Live8, the G8, these governments and the eager little, statistic spouting NGO types are thieves of African humanity.

Live8 and Emmanuel Jal

On Saturday July 2nd, Live8 concerts will be held in ten cities around the world. They will feature the biggest and most famous names in pop. Performing in London, at Hyde Park, will be the African Children’s Choir, Annie Lennox, Bob Geldof, Coldplay, Dido, Elton John, Joss Stone, Keane, The Killers, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Ms. Dynamite, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Razorlight, REM, Robbie Williams, Scissor Sisters, Snoop Dogg, Snow Patrol, Stereophonics, Sting, Travis, U2, UB40, Velvet Revolver. What jumps out at me instantly is that none of these artists is African. On Wednesday night, I happened to catch up with Emmanuel Jal – a young Sudanese rapper and currently the hottest act in East Africa – who was performing at the Ritzy. It turns out that he was publicly invited by Fran Healy, the lead singer for Travis, who had been in Sudan to “see the plight of Africans for himself”. Healy, who has stoutly defended Bob Geldorf against charges that the Live8 is nothing more than a careerist prop, promised Emmanuel that he would be part of the line up at Hyde Park tomorrow night. But this will not be the case. Emmanuel told me that Geldorf had informed him in no uncertain terms that he could not participate. Only artists who had “sold more than 4 million records” would get on stage Sir Bob informed young Emmanuel.

A former child soldier in war-torn Sudan, and a strong talent, Emmanuel should be what Live8 is all about. His debut album, Gua (‘Peace’ in his native Nuer language), ‘fuses staccato rapping in Arabic, English, Kiswahili and Nuer’, and is an incredible piece of work.

This is what Live8 has to say about itself:

“This is not Live Aid 2. These concerts are the start point for The Long Walk To Justice, the one way we can all make our voices heard in unison. This is without doubt a moment in history where ordinary people can grasp the chance to achieve something truly monumental and demand from the 8 world leaders at G8 an end to poverty. The G8 leaders have it within their power to alter history. They will only have the will to do so if tens of thousands of people show them that enough is enough. By doubling aid, fully cancelling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa, the G8 could change the future for millions of men, women and children.”

But of course the concerts or the Long Walk to Justice or the pledges of aid or debt cancellation have nothing to do with Africans and poverty. This is all about a self obsessed, cynical use of suffering to prop up fledgling pop careers for those like Geldorf; cynical political machinations by the Blair types who understand that there is much mileage to be made from ‘helping Africa’ when they are deeply unpopular on other fronts; and an aid industry that has become hopelessly addicted to living high off the proceeds of suffering. If only that snot nosed boy with a Kwashiorkor-distended belly and perhaps a couple of bullet wounds knew how many people he feeds, clothes and houses in luxury. If only he knew how much aid he has given to the washed out, mediocre types who clamour to help him.

In all the major concerts, there will be few if any Africans on stage. The closest thing to one in London will be Snoop Dogg who was brought in at the last instant to add a dash of colour to the proceedings. Then there will be the African Children’s Choir. These are kids from the nKomazi region on the northern border of South Africa. We are told by their founder, Ray Barnett, that AIDS is devastating their villages, that they are all orphans and that “their story is that of so many children in sub-Sahara Africa.” The purpose of their attendance will be to show the world the plight and hope of all African children.

I have no doubt that they are quite talented and all that, but they are not going to be on stage as artists. They are a project. Just like Africa and Africans are projects. We have long since shed any vestiges of human independence and ability and have become walking sores, diseases and killing machines according to our ‘friends’. Emmanuel or any other African musician must not be allowed to perform in front of the hundreds of millions who will be tuned into the concert broadcasts. For that to happen, it would be revealed that in fact Africa has minds, opinions and a life outside the beggary and misery that is the staple food of the Geldof types.

Putin and His African Cannibalism Take

Being in St Petersburg and only now learning that Putin said that Africans had a history of cannibalism made me laugh till the tears rolled. Not because what he said was really funny, but because of the knee jerk outrage that poured out of my own folks over the statement and not the promise of aid he made. Here is a guy who on one hand calls you a cannibal and on the other promises you money, and you accept! That is so hilarious because the only other thing it could be is tragic enough to make me cry for days. This is what Trevor Phillips, the UK’s government-appointed commisar of racial equality, had to say: “What a preposterous thing to say. He is at best insensitive and at worst a downright racist”. Insensitive? How hopeless. The brother is trying to spin some poltical correctness game in the midst of madness. Putin knows perfectly well that he doesn’t give a shit about Africans but needs to play ‘the game’ which over the years has come to include merciful gestures for the doomed Africans. For the last week, I have been staying in the city where he was born. It was here that almost a million people died so that I could take admiring photos of the city and in this country that Stalin killed at least 20 million Russians not to even mention the millions that Lenin and Trotsky murdered. There is no need for outrage from the usual coterie of African guilt mongers. Who the hell cares that Putin says Africans are cannibals when he comes from the cruelest place on earth? I think he was joking and actually really didn’t give a damn how it came out. Two minutes in St. Petersburg will show you that political correctness here is absurd.

An African in St. Petersburg: The Arrival

From today, I will try and keep a kind of diary of my two-week trip to St. Petersburg. Hopefully I will be able to find a computer that I can use to upload the pictures that I am taking.

The Arrival

I flew into St. Petersburg yesterday evening on a flight from Vienna. I have always wanted to put those cities in a sentence that involves me. As is the usual case for The African, immigration was a complex matter. It never ceases to amaze me how suddenly, when you are in an immigration queue, the crushing power of the State makes itself felt. While aloft, I was an international traveler, a privileged being that has taken flight. My troubles were behind and below me; ahead was possibility and optimism. When I landed, it was like being in a Toyland. The rows of planes, the terminal building and the little trucks zipping here and there all appeared a bit unreal, like a kind of children’s Lego set.

It is the immigration form that brought me to earth. It made no apologies for its demand of information: when was I born; where was I going; why was I going there; for how long; where did I come from; what was I carrying, weapons, acids, sharp objects, animals, plants…; citizenship; residence; date of birth; maiden name; address; passport number and date of issue and expiry; other? It is ‘other’ that gets my goat. What else could I tell? That I was carrying drugs or planning acts of terrorism? That I may have left behind heartbreak and that I hoped to one day win the lottery and that the expiry of my life, not just that of my passport, was a constant worry? Well, I filled the form. It is habit. I have been categorized, measured, weighed and credentialed so often that it now feels normal to squeeze my life into forms. And I also filled it because not doing so always has unpleasant consequences. 98.5% of all forms are a way of avoiding punishment, pleading and justifying. So I filled mine and got in line to speak to the most important individual in my life at that moment, the immigration officer.

By the time I inched up to the desk behind which sat, as always, a grim faced official my happy feelings of having been magically transported had dissipated. I was gripped by an inexplicable guilt, that I had committed some crime that the official would spot instantly. This is why I clutched my passport a little too tightly, and glanced repeatedly at the page with the visa to make sure that it was actually there and has the correct dates. Also in hand were my ticket, insurance form and the schedule of the writing conference that had brought me to Russia. I half expected that I would have to re-apply all over again for permission to enter. My overly active imagination started making up scenarios of the official ordering a search of my baggage and a joint of marijuana being found. I worried whether the friends I have lent my suitcase in the past could have left such damning evidence in it.

The Russians and Europeans ahead of me briskly stepped up to the official and were processed quickly and efficiently. She barely looked at their passports, seeming to be satisfied on the basis of the country that had issued them. The Austrian that I spent part of the flight conversing with kept up a lively chatter that I could not concentrate on. He had few worries; this for him was just a small irksome procedure. And that it is how it appears to Africans as well, after they have been successfully admitted. Before then, you can tell who they are by the silence that envelops them in the queue and their solemn expressions.

Finally it was my turn and as is my wont, I brightly said hullo taking special care to pronounce the ‘hi’ with a distinctly American accent. It was better, I calculated, to say ‘hi’ instead of hello or habari or niatia. Such greetings may mark me for some kind of rent seeking, asylum declaring African. The dirty little secret of the African in line is that he attempts to reduce his Africanness in every possible way. The passport from Kenya or Uganda and, heaven forbid, Nigeria, is trouble enough. Thus my chirpy ‘hi’ which evidently had been tried before since it was met with silence and a searching glance.

OK, have to run and meet the group for dinner. The Petersburg diary shall continue later.

419 Scam: The Lawyer Prepares to Enter the Fray

This is a picture of Naomi Bangura, she of the $14 million Ivory Coast bank account. She sent it in response to my lonely roofer englishman character who it now turns out is in search of love having married a Croation mail-order bride who treated him badly. I had also created another character, Dick Ramahda II, who was going to be my lawyer meant to confirm that Naomi is for real but has instead decided to seduce her and get hold of her $14 million. I wanted the story to be filled with back stabbing, stupidity and loneliness.

dear naomi,
i am going through a lot with my employee accident and divorce. I maried a very bad woman naomi, she is from croatia and has treated me very badly. but you have been so nice to me even when we have never met, I wish you were here. I like your picture. do you think maybe when the money comes in we can go to brighton beach and maybe even become closer than close friends? I will make sure dick acts quickly for you. I thin you are nice.
with great love,

I have blacked out her features since I am sure that this is not really Naomi. Notice the mansion in the background… Posted by Hello

See below for the continuation of ‘Can you find romance in a 419 scam?’ series. I post this with the usual sense of shame because if Naomi Bangura is a con artist, then I must be the idlest, nothing-to-do character alive to have engaged in this dialogue with her. This is just prior to the final series of emails when I introduce a lawyer called Dick Ramahda II who is meant to be representing me but actually wants to rip me off and take Naomi for himself. I wanted to see how the 419 crew would respond to such treachery…
To read the background to the series of exchanges below, please go to the following links:

Can a 419 Scam Letter Lead to Romance?
The 419 Scam Letter Romance Continues
419 Scam: Naomi Bangura’s Photo
419 Scam: Naomi Bangura’s Certificate of Deposit
The 419 Scam Letter Chapter 3

Beloved Mr MMK am very glad to have a person like you on my way and i am sure is not a mistake because before i got your contact i prayed and fasted for 3 good days and this is divinely made by the power of Jesus christ.
And i will not stop praying for you and all the members of your family in Jesus name.
Please,sir i will you to contact me as soon as you contact the bank.
Have you received my picture and bank document?
God bless you is my prayer.
yours naomi.

Sir,how are you today?am afraid because i have not been hearing from you for a long time,after sending my picture and bank document and contacts i want to ask you wheather you have received them or not;Have you contacted the bank?
Frankly,speaking i am worried for not hearing from you,remember you promised to help me,this money is all my hope and life you know there is political problem here in ivory coast for confirmation check this (WWW.ABIDJAN.NET).Being a young girl of my age i need your help and direction and if you cannot help me is better you let me know now so that i can look for another person that can help me.
I know that you might be busy of one thing or the other but you have to remember that am a young girl and human being and i see you as my father.
My greetings to your family and may GOD bless you
all amen.
Am waiting for your message.

Dear naomi,
I am sorry have been out of contacy. sory about you feeling so sad. as i told you one of my workerts got hurt ansd that is what we have beenn focusing on. really want to help you but am wondering about the money. just when you wrote me and even kindly sent me your picture (you are a very younf and atractive girl) someone wrote me a letter who is also in the same probliems like you. is this common problem? he was writing from liberia and had a lot of monery in the bank. almost fifty million which he offered to share if i helped him. i am tempted to also do busines wityh him, what do you thinlk? it would be good money for me and it would also help youbng people in trouble. tell me your thoughts.
thank you and cheers.

Dear Mr MMK.

I thank you so much for your letter at last. And I am sorry for what heppened to your worker.

Please, I will want you to be serious about my case and help me.

Here is the website of the bank,where my father depoisted the money (www.boahq.com) you can contact them for the transfer of this fund,so that I will leave here now that the political problems has not gotten worse.

For the person that contacted you.I do not know him in person,But there are many people here who lost their parents in the cause of the war.If your spirit direct
you to help him as well, I will not stop you.

I am looking forward to hear from you.


Miss Naomi Bangura.

How are you sir?i see it neccesary to write you once again,i hope you are coping with the problem your company had in dead of your worker,i hope the situation is coming down.
I know the Lord is in control and i have been praying day and night to see that the lord see us through for this transaction,i still beleive that the lord brought you to be a help and it shall not be invain,you know am a young girl and don’t know much about business and i know with you everything shall go smoothly when i come to your country to work with you.Have you contacted the bank? i went to the bank to confirm if you have contacted them and i was told that you have not contacted them,pls sir don’t waist time remember you promised me,and they are still waiting for your lawyers to call them.
Sir, there is one thing i noticed from the bank director, he seems not to be much happy because i want to send this money abroad and he told me that he has a
friend in toronto canada who deals in diamond and he will contact him for me but i said no that i trust you and i cannot do business with anybody except you,tuesday last week i went to consult a lawyer concerning what the bank director told me,when two of us got to the bank my lawyer asked the bank director that as long as your name is in the bank file that he has no legal right to contact anybody who is not my
choice or desire,so my lawyer is with us here to ensure every thing go well and he is worried and he said you should do quick so that after the tranfer of this money i can come to meet you.
Please,sir call the bank director so that they can tell you what to do for the transfer of this money.
Thanks and GOD bless you and your family.
yours Naomi

dear naomi,

as always I am happy to hear from you. but worrid. i talked to my lawyer and he seemd a bit hesitant because he said my busines is very in debt. but then i told him that you seemed very nice and showed him the certificate of deposit. i hope that he makes a conection with the bank because he promised. how are you? tell me quickly when my lawyer contacts bank.

Babylon System is the Vampire!

Why OGs and mababi, two generations of the African elite, are under attack

When I attended primary school in Pumwani in the early 1980s, babi was a teasing term for a softie: a spoiled kid who couldn’t hang. In the intervening decades, a babi has become a detested and shunned individual who cannot participate in most public spaces in Nairobi. His presence is experienced by most as an imposition, an invasion by a Babylon system that dirties all it touches with its contempt, sense of entitlement, foreign airs and corruption. To put it simply, a babi is a child of the OGs: the original gangsters who took over the reins of the colonial state in the 1960s and their hangers-on. While crime is widespread, to be identified as a babi marks you as a target for hyper-violent criminality; the failings of the political system that gave birth to him shall be visited on his flesh.

The Kibaki administration, the Official Opposition and the foreign-funded civil society are all mababi. While they are busy arguing about corruption, the constitution and speeches by Edward Clay, they have not noticed that they are speaking to themselves. People are hearing the political chatter, but listening is an act of faith that would be naïve given what has happened in the last two years not to mention the preceding forty. Many are realizing that the system has never worked for them. In fact, the problem is not that it has failed but that it was never designed to deliver. Those occupying the higher reaches of the state have not noticed that politics are moving out of the political arena. The people – that featureless mass perpetually invoked by the babi system as the recipient of its political efforts – have checked out of the building. But in many African countries, they have only been inside the national building for brief periods of postcolonial history.

Mababi cradle their drinks in expensive restaurants, often discussing, amid the sounds of tinkling glasses, mwa-mwa-mwa kisses and modulated Spanish music, politics. They tend to demand a return to a clean, green, criminal-free capital city – an Eden that only they, and the colonial settlers before them, ever occupied. Their concerns are reminiscent of colonial settlers who sipped sundowners during Empire’s high noon and complained that the city had gone to hell, that the Africans were becoming more criminal by the day. Can it not be asked whether the mababi are the colonialists of the 21st Century?

Their parents’, the OGs’, takeover of the colonial reins was a cosmetic change – the barest mention of words like revolution or struggle produces an uncomfortable shuffling of feet, clearing of throats – never meant to address the state’s toxic relationships to the many publics of the newly independent colony. The mode of OG governance was classically colonial: divide and rule, patronage, brutality and relentless speeches urging the ignorant rural folk to modernize and develop. They took over and whitewashed the colonisers civilizing mission: a confused, racist attempt to subjugate the ‘savages’ presumably in order to save us from ourselves.

Modernization and development in the OG dictionary have meant ‘come with me on a merry run-around where I pretend to do stuff for you while I pad my bank account with your taxes’.

It is true that the nationalists in their heyday captured the imagination of many people. Unfortunately many of them secretly aspired to be like the White dude they saw during a Speech Day in school. And so many of them became not the connecting voices of their different peoples, but the bridge between the village and the European metropolis, the commodity brokers who sold their people short. They turned their faces to London, Havana, Moscow or Washington; anywhere, provided it was not the smoky huts in which they were born. But they still sought to brandish those poor, church-attending relatives as a political base in order to get hold of the Governor’s Mansion or State House as it is now known.

The initial strategy was to shout down imperialism, flirt with socialism and declare that as panafricanists, they now represented all Africans. Simultaneously, switching from the language of revolution, they used their smooth talk to assure the colonial powers that it would be business as usual after independence. They were everything to everyone: fellow revolutionaries to Fidel Castro and Malcolm X; visionary leaders to many Africans; and business partners to colonialists.

The OGs in the next twenty years after independence engaged in an orgy of thievery. Its dire public cost was only relieved by infusions of Western aid, commodity exports and the fading memory of colonial administrative know-how. It is during these years that they gave birth to the mababi. Though OGs remain in control of the higher terraces of the state, their babi children are attempting the second inheritance. Where the former used nationalism and panafricanism to satisfy a hunger for power, the latter are using ideas from conferences held in Beijing, Davos and Monterrey. The cry is no longer yesteryear’s Viva La Revolución; it is now the Western liberalism of the UN’s Millennium goals, NEPAD, Feminism, Human Rights and Environmentalism. To mababi, the state is theirs to inherit. They are already working hard to create the impression that they are the representatives of – you guessed right – the people. They point an accusing finger at the OGs for bad governance – as if the opposite has ever been true in most of Africa – and conveniently forget that it is a sin to disrespect their parents. The citizen’s role in this plan: help the mababi clean up the OG system.

As the African publics endure insult heaped on injury, the numbers who still believe that forming legal parties, voting and raising kids to do well in exams can change the rules of the game shrinks. Increasingly, the view that it is not the rules of the game that are wrong but rather the entire class of people who dominate it is gaining a foothold. It is those who hold this conviction and have turned to crime that should concern everyone whose lifestyle seems babi-like even if they are not well connected members of this small tribe.

Adherents of the growing outlaw culture in Nairobi have a code that utilises violence above and beyond the call of criminal duty. When a babi is targeted, he commonly experience the whack of the pistol butt across the face, a humiliating undressing after a car jacking and unprovoked stabbings or shootings. The victim is held in such scorn that the assailants believe he deserve no humane consideration. Many innocents have been victimized and even the babi is often not personally guilty of any crime. But because so many have turned their back on the political process, and on the laws it is meant to create and enforce, they regard those on the wrong side of the babi divide as fair game.

To those who experience the quiet desperation of trying to survive in Africa – despite some personnel changes at State House – further talk of reform is a mockery. The only way out of this impasse is to ruthlessly limit the state’s functions and resources. Its reach should be shrunk to the point that there is little incentive for the OGs and mababi to control its coffers. The only institutions we need as people of initiative and industry are the judiciary, the legislature and law enforcement. Demands for privatization, decentralization, low taxes and the retreat of the state from the economy will not be bywords of a neo-liberal agenda set in Washington. Rather, they will be the start of a much needed and long-awaited process of decolonization. Africans do not want promises of better governance by the same old crowd or its anti-corruption rhetoric or seminars lecturing us about sustainable development. We want to be left alone by a vampire state and its little vampire children who never saw a con they didn’t like, a donor they could not kneel before and a poor person they couldn’t pity, hate or fear.

If Bob Geldof Cannot Even Write a Hit Song, How Can He Save Africa?

I was just about to comment on the upcoming G8 Summit and the hypocrisy of Bob Geldof who has been filling the air waves with his inane pleas for more aid to Africa. Then I came across the op-ed below, by Simon Jenkins, which says exactly what I had been hoping to express about the issue.

Aid sounds mighty nice, but it’s trade that feeds Africa
simon jenkins (In London’s Sunday Times)

To use the language of the “new” G8, I cannot get my head round next month’s summit at Gleneagles. Ostensibly it is running true to form. G8 summits have become a cynic’s byword for extravagance, platitude and glitz. But since Tony Blair unofficially signed up Bob Geldof as “G9”, the summit’s objective seems to have changed.

It is no longer to combat world poverty directly but to “raise awareness”. Since this can be defined in terms of airtime and column inches, a summit succeeds by doing what it anyway does best. The more it spends on itself, the more likely the target is met. The G8 is the New G8, with built-in cynicism deflection.

These gatherings are 30 years old this year. They were founded by the French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, in 1975 as “library chats” between the heads of rich first-world governments. There would be no aides present and agendas would be ad hoc. By keeping meetings small and informal the exalted could commune “above the level of petty bureaucratic concerns”. Like Giscard’s doomed exercise in European constitution-building, things soon got out of hand. The group of five became eight. Canada was included but China, India and anyone black or brown were out.

Today the G8 outstrips Henry VIII’s Field of the Cloth of Gold in extravagance and posturing. Informality has vanished. Host nations spend lavishly on hospitality and call it “showcasing”. Officials are told to draft statements of stupefying emptiness. Favoured topics include free trade, energy conservation, climate change and, from some sense of shame, poverty. The last has predominated, as George W Bush curtly remarks, “as long as I have been president”.

Locations have been made ever more inaccessible to protect delegates from infuriated demonstrators. In 2000 the Japanese held a summit “to discuss world poverty” at a cost of £500m on Okinawa. The same theme was proposed for the most outrageous summit, Genoa in 2001, when Silvio Berlusconi regaled delegates with submarine protection, athletic masseurs, three tenors and £10m of security per head. The mob howled on the quayside and were beaten up by the carabinieri.

This so terrified the Canadians that in 2002 they decided to discuss world poverty deep in the Rocky Mountains. It was there that Blair felt the “hand of history” upon him. He had decided to “halve world poverty within a decade” and would start with Africa. When Blair talks about poverty today we should remember that this is his sixth successive bite at the cherry. The exploitation of global misery to justify a politico/celebrity extravaganza is global diplomacy at its most obscene.

Gleneagles is reportedly costing even more than Genoa, £12m a head in security. So paranoid are delegates that £50m is being spent on policing alone. Nine million pounds is going on moving, feeding and sleeping eight delegates “informally” for just three days. You need not be a rabid leftwinger to find these sums inexcusable.

This year’s gimmick is that the G8 will “incorporate its critics” by half-welcoming Bob Geldof’s music festival. Blair is now travelling the world on a pre-conference jaunt with celebrity endorsements from Madonna, Sting, Bono, Elton John, Ms Dynamite, Mariah Carey and a million wristbands. He has a backing track being rehearsed in London, Philadelphia, Berlin, Paris and Rome. Who says G8 is not reaching out? Nor does Geldof even mean to raise money, apart from the £1.6m he must give Prince Charles for evicting his charities from Hyde Park on July 2. He need only show airtime to meet his awareness target. Never say the British, led by the Irish, cannot do chutzpah.

The rich world has thus attained nirvana. The Good Samaritan need no longer cross the road. He need only be “aware” and cry, “Hey man, wow, right on!” The G8 and Geldof have accepted Margaret Thatcher’s exegesis: the real point of the biblical parable is that the Samaritan had to get rich first.

The meat in this beanfeast is supposedly supplied by Gordon Brown. His contribution is to repackage the familiar summit trio of aid, debt relief and trade preference. But which? The classic test of any discussion of world poverty is which takes centre stage.

Aid — Geldof’s “just give us the f****** money” — has become discredited, for reasons that run through Blair’s mostly admirable Commission for Africa report. The Americans have balked at offering more since they already give $7.5 billion and claim to prefer outcomes to inputs. I have some sympathy. The days are gone when the West sees any point in pouring money into Africa with no way of ensuring it is well spent. Blair’s pledge to “double aid in 10 years” is meaningless targetry. Nor have decades of bellyaching about corruption done any good. Why should an African leader promise elections in return for aid to his poor? Elections give someone else the Geneva bank account.

Debt relief is more complex. Brown’s idea of waiving it for tsunami states vanished when the states realised they might lose credit thereby. His pet international finance facility has been scaled down but remains debt by another name. Nor has anyone come up with a way of ensuring that relieving debt really helps Africa’s poor rather than its rich.

Debt certainly cripples the so-called Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, but Gleneagles is not needed to progress the existing British/American relief plan. The best way to help these states is not to press them into further debt, which is what Brown seems to propose. It is to help Africans repay their borrowing themselves.

Which brings us to trade. If the G8 really cares about world poverty, it will avoid Gleneagles and meet instead on a Glasgow dockside. There delegates will watch the unloading of a cargo of sugar, rice, fruit, cotton and coal from the Third World. Afterwards they will sail out into the Clyde and witness the ceremonial sinking of a ship crammed with their own surpluses, about to be dumped on African markets. That is not dumb awareness-raising. It is really tackling world poverty.

For the past six years the G8 has been preaching relief yet maintaining vicious trade sanctions against Africa and Asia. It has denied them markets for their produce and flooded them with surpluses. At this very moment, millions of tons of subsidised European and American sugar and cotton are being dumped on Africa, destroying local industries and impoverishing populations. This has nothing to do with corruption or lethargy or “ungovernable Africa”. It is economic warfare by the G8 against the poor.

The best thing Gleneagles could do is announce not another fancy aid package but a revival of Britain’s old imperial preference. This means more than debating the EU’s partnership agreements, promising to buy specific goods from specific poor countries and not dump on them in return. It means actually implementing such agreements. Yet I see from the spin that Britain is downplaying trade in favour of yet more aid and debt relief. The reason, I fear. is simple. Pledging taxpayers’ money costs politicians nothing. Since the pledge is seldom honoured, it also barely costs the taxpayer.

Trade is a different matter. It means confronting lobbies, upsetting producers, withdrawing subsidies. It means doing, not talking. Its benefits are seen not on western television but in the markets of Lagos, Accra, Abidjan, Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam. That is why trade reform has no purchase on the White House, Brussels or the Blair/Geldof agenda. Aid is sexy. It makes its recipients dependent and its donors feel good. There is a neo-imperialist streak in the Make Poverty History movement. Trade is mercantile and often “unfair”. It is always scrutinised for a boycott.

If Blair is serious about “tackling world poverty” he should devote his present junketing to one objective, to a crash programme of preferential, bilateral trade deals with poor countries. This is the only action that offers a robust and lasting cure to world poverty. If, as seems certain, Blair finds all ears deaf to this demand, he has one recourse. He should cancel Gleneagles as pointless. He should send the £100m it will cost straight to Oxfam and present a urgent trade preference bill to parliament. If he and Geldof really need to bask in each other’s glory, they can stage an annual rally in Trafalgar Square naming and shaming the countries that refused at Gleneagles to take poverty seriously. All else is flam.

Fisticuffs, Bitterness and Fame

I have just got this sudden craving to watch black and white talkies; anything with Lauren Bacall or Elizabeth Taylor, who in case you were not schooled became a celluloid goddess after her performance in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’. I dare you to consider going through with a marriage proposal after watching that train wreck of a film!

The other evening, while weighing whether to endure the guilt of procrastination or completing two overdue dissertation chapters, I decided on the former and turned to the TV in the hope of catching some good old Jerry Springer. If you have ever wanted to feel blessed, brilliant, loved and morally upright, I highly recommend an hour of Jerry ‘take care of yourself and each other’ Springer. Unfortunately, there was nothing to appeal to such base tastes. However, I did came across a late-night screening of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. And was soon riveted by the emotional disintegration of Jake La Motta the boxer character played by Robert De Niro. The film is two hours of cringe and is based on the true story of La Motta who was a middleweight fighter in the late-1940s and early-1950s.

From winning the world championship with the kind of ferocity that only comes from deep issues, La Motta starts throwing fights, brutalises his wife, sexually exploits minors, takes to heavy drink and finally ends up as a washed-up grossly overweight stand-up comic at an obscure nightclub. All the while De Niro is matching his character’s weight gain and you can see him literally falling apart physically and psychologically. The film has all the elements it takes to make the ab&h list of celluloid fame, fisticuffs, bitterness and fame. And of course it is about boxing, a subject that has long fascinated me to the point that I am in danger of being one of those old men whose constant refrain will be, “I couda been a contender son, then your momma done gon an gotten herself pregnant…”

So a few days later, I am doing my little pre-summer jogging routine and I start daydreaming that I am wearing a hoodie, running with a grim determination to win an upcoming title fight. Before you can say “snap out of it”, I am at my laptop doing a Google search for boxing gyms in the neighbourhood. And behold, there happens to be one a mile or so away. So what other option did I have but to inquire about joining in the hope that at 34, the gym owner would run his bleary eye down my library ravaged body and spot the savage beast within.

And that is exactly what the elderly and laid-back – to the point of unconsciousness – owner of the Fitzroy Lodge did. His sceptical eyes took me in, concentrating to my surprise not on my bulging with skin, bone and blood vessels biceps but on my ever so slightly protruding belly. With what I hoped was a tone implying that I had banged heads with the toughest of them but did not wish to call attention to a dark past, I announced that I was there to “work out.” He extended his hand in greeting and I shook his dry palm with what I hoped was a squeeze that would let him gauge a hidden strength that I imagine must be someplace in me even if its stayed well hidden all these years. And no, don’t you dare suggest that my hands gained their hard grip hanging out with five-fingered Betty in boarding school. But this is a digression that is not to my advantage.

The gym was tucked away behind a line of FedEx delivery trucks, under an unused rail-track giving it the slightly seedy, industrial atmosphere anyone who has watched Rocky associates with such ventures. Inside, the ubiquitous and much described in every boxing story was an overpowering smell of sweat, chalk and leather. I was in: the first step to a fight in Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace ring!

The room was dominated by two boxing rings occupied by bouncing, jabbing, parrying, shuffling pairs. They looked clumsy to me, I could already tell that they were not going to match the athleticism that saw me into the Lenana School rugby team all of fifteen years ago. Heavy bags hung from the low ceiling like big, red fruits that had somehow managed to make a roomful of men angry enough to whack at them with varying degrees of violence. From all the boxing sagas I had read, and my lifelong fascination with the Kinshasa fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, I knew that ‘working the bag’, as the latter did so famously, is an art form of controlled aggression and playacting since you must visualise an appendage-less opponent who looks like a red, squat four-foot long sausage hanging from the ceiling.

Standing out from the crowd of young, mostly white males was a thin black woman who was bouncing clumsily from foot to foot with a kind of crazed energy as she tried to pummel the bag under the watchful eye of the whole room. You could tell right away that everyone was intensely conscious of her presence and I wondered whether I would come in for the same attention – perhaps even a challenge to spar with a brutal customer who would try and ‘blood’ me. These impressions were brief since our walk across the room to the office was all of thirty feet.

To be continued … my ego can take no more writing for now. I must save the triumph or the agony for later; my chapters are calling for some loving attention.

Anonymous Reacts to Africa’s Brain Drain With Uncommon Honesty and Courage

I just received the comment below to my recent post on Africa’s brain drain debate. The writer who chose not to reveal his/her identity had such a visceral and honest reaction that I wish I millions of people could read it. Anonymous, please reveal yourself and tell us more!

Survival first is the most real of all human existence.

Money, but not patriotism pays the bills.
What is often laughable is it is the same beggars in government that have the temerity to label acts of sacrifice by Kenyans …brain drain.

Some go as far as saying they don’t understand how someone will leave a good job in Kenya to go and wipe arse in America.

Well the answer is plain and simple.
Wiping arse in America pays me 10-fold what the paltry pennies in Kenya did.
Wiping arse in America has given me an opportunity that those beggars in government stole.
A chance to be somebody.
Wiping arse in America pays the bills and restores dignity to my family.
Wiping arse in America keeps my younger sibling well provided for so she doesn’t have to go the streets to get it.

While banking in Kenya what did I ever have?
Paltry wages, strained family relations, hopelessness and the list is endless.

Yes I wipe arse in America.
Yes I also don’t think the bank suffered very much when my behind left my position in the words of my boss … you leave, we hire someone else.

Well understood.

Unlike the people in the Kenya government I hate handouts. I hate pity. I hate pretending. I hate stealing from others to build myself.

I love to work with my hands, break my back and at the end of the day see the toils of my labour pay off.

Me and many like myself are the true patriots of Kenya.
We didn’t leave her or sit back and feel sorry for her.
We knew that we make her.
We knew that when we are better than she is better.
Unlike those taking comfort in appearing in infomercials about Kibera begging for food while there is plenty in Kenya to feed us for years to come.
The donations that are given go straight to that fat white woman’s pocket and that nasty funky looking meero who can’t wait for another summit on the brain drain being a bigger threat than AIDS in Africa.

We choose to hide Kenya’s nakedness by the little differences we make in our own way.
Kenya knows that and appreciates it.
That for me is enough.

Where Does African Heroism Reside?

I just received a text message from a friend in Nairobi who let me know that the authorities are bulldozing all the temporary structures built to house small businesses: kiosks, hawkers and mitumba dealers. All this is being done to supposedly get ‘rid of thugs’. I have been saying it for a while now, the Kenyan government is at war with its own people. Now small business people are thugs; wardens shot dead by British aristocrats get no justice, journalists slapped by the First Lady and Maasai people agitating for a return of their land in Laikipia. It all adds up to the criminalisation of being poor. But I have gone into all these matters in the past and frankly speaking, they are driving me to rage and great sadness. Let me use this post, not to be escapist, but to ponder on the nature of heroism, whether courage is a political virtue. And to ask where Kenyan or African heroism exists. In my last post, I mentioned my grandpa who went to Burma to fight with the King’s African Rifles during WW2. I have wondered what experiences he had there and have decided to post some pictures before I can get a story out. I enjoyed these pictures and hope that I am able to upload them.

My Granpa Went to Burma and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

Have you ever wondered why the British have so much concern for Africa and Africans that they would launch commissions of inquiry into the continent’s troubles? Well so have I, which is why an upcoming Oral History conference on ‘changing memories of World War Two’ offered me a glimpse into the heart of British charity. This is the advertisement for the conference:

A range of presentations from across Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Latin and North America will address the War’s consequences and legacy in the memories of participants and for successive generations. These presentations are organized into two major themes which reflect the ways in which the War continues in many countries to play a part in historical consciousness and everyday life. ‘Remembering, forgetting and silences’ explores individual memories in relation to dominant discourses, identity, myth and intergenerational transmission. The second of the two themes, ‘Using memories of war’, includes reminiscence as a therapeutic intervention and the ways in which the media has shaped recollections of the War.

That is right. Africa and Africans were somehow not a part of that war’s consequences and legacies. Yet the King’s African Rifles suffered many thousands of dead and maimed in the Burma, Abyssinia and Somalia campaigns. Then there were the taxes and other privations that Africans had to suffer as their colonial rulers fought a total war. This is not a rant to demand ‘inclusion’, a term that I detest with every cell in my body, it is to note that even as the British establishment crows about 2005 being the ‘Year of Africa’, they nevertheless maintain boundaries between the native and the master in their national myths. There is plenty of print and conferencing available when you die of hunger, HIV or just plain old atrocity, but not when you take a bullet for King Georgie. The thanks must flow in one direction only: Africans must kneel before the British in gratitude at Blair’s Commission and Bob Geldof’s pronouncements. But they, oh no, they will not acknowledge that at the hour of their greatest weakness, some darkies stepped in and did a job.

Pity is the worst thing in the world. When you are pitied and helped out of pity, your life is often taken off your hands. Pity degrades and kills everything it touches. And that is what we have become, a pitied people who come on hands and knees begging for more pity, nay actually, it is worse than that, we now demand pity as a human right!

I have fired off a deceptively ‘calm’ email to the organisers and hope that they will fall for the trap before I launch some brimstone their way.

Having said all that, I am embarrassed at how poor my education in history was in Kenya. I did not for example know that almost every Kamba male who was not handicapped was recruited into WW1 service; or that so many died and suffered (45,000 officially and 200,000 unofficially); or that many campaigns were won through the tenacity and courage of African soldiers. They may have been fighting in an absurd war given that they were the colonised fighting to keep others from being colonised, but courage should be acknowledged and applauded wherever it rears its head. The recruitment of the King’s African rifles who numbered over 120,000 in WW2 brought many people from incredibly diverse backgrounds together. They took to speaking English, Lingala, and Swahili as common languages, creating the templates for the nationalist politics that followed and led to the formation of the continent’s governments. The salaries they were paid sparked an economic boom after the war and tied a large proportion of the people to the cash economy. The war also radically changed the colonial notions of the African person. After the high fatality rate of WW1, recruiters had a tough time trying to attract Africans to join up. Few now know that the colour bar was dropped in 1939 to enable readier military recruitment.

Growing up, I was always taken with the bronze three-man statue on Kenyatta Avenue – can you picture it? The guy with a stick is a carrier, in the middle is a KAR rifleman flanked by an Arab rifleman. They appeared so strong and firm, which I suppose is the whole point of the thing. And the stories from the wars are gripping. Kenyan and Tanzanian beef for example fed the million men on the allied side stationed in the Middle East. Then here comes the King’s Africans Rifles, who when they were not putting down rebellious types on home soil, found time to ship to Burma and face down Japan’s crack troops – called the white tigers – in the ‘valley of death’. Then there are characters like Color-Sergeant Kumani of the 1st Battalion, King’s African Rifles who on October 7, 1914 won the Distinguished Conduct Medal in a battle at Gazi for his bravery ‘in leading his company in a charge after all his officers had been shot down, and drawing off the enemy’. Why did he do it? Why did he run into enemy fire when his white officers fell?

My late grandfather was a medical officer during World War 2 and I remember him being called daktari by everyone in Wida, Kiambu. I wonder what he experienced in Burma. What he felt travelling so far, treating gaping wounds and doses of the clap, losing friends to an early death for a cause that was not theirs. He was such a bunch of contradictions: charismatic, kind to me, brutal to those he did not like, clever, seductive, funny… He was a full person, but I regret that I was too young to talk to him about the things that I have since learned about his time ‘over there’. Beyond these personal asides, I am as always struck by the power of learning history. And have developed a conviction that to be ignorant about history is to be an intellectual cripple: driven only by the demands of the present and yet unable to understand from whence they come, and therefore ultimately meeting the future unarmed and more naked than need be.

Maybe I am wrong and my high school history education was superior. But I was too sleepy to care during those hellish afternoon double lessons with this teacher we called Rook. He would stand in front of the class like a peacock, chin up, hands on hips, and would authoritatively repeat the textbook on your desk to a letter. The moment I set eyes on him, a wave of sleep would overcome me. I always thought he should have come with one of those ‘do not operate machinery after ingestion’ warning signs. Yes, perhaps it was all Rooks’ fault.

The Matrix Redux: The African Version Scene IV

The preceding Matrix Redux posts are in the April archive: Scene I, II, and III.

I really dug the movie. Especially the party scene in Zion which was a real kick and reminded me of the overly conscious cool of Brooklyn, New York.

I lived in Brooklyn for a few years and loved the Fort Green neighbourhood before it was taken over by mousy types from the backwaters of Iowa. In the good old days, it was filled with the kind of deliciously pretentious and yet cool kind of black person that I have come to refer to as an RRRR: Range Rover (driving) Rasta Revolutionary. This is a very particular type of young black person who has often done quite well professionally and yet is profoundly uncomfortable with his/her privileges and as a result tries to project a kind of progressive, left, revolutionary, mystical – you get the meaning – identity.

By day he works in an investment bank and by night soulfully spouts Sufi poetry. He can often be heard in coffee shops and funky lounges holding forth in angry tones on the subject of the ‘Man’ and the ‘System’. As the rare beers from Fiji – bottled in fair trade wooden bottles – flow, he is often to be heard making a never-to-be-achieved plan to become the next Malcolm X.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate such contradictions and loved my neighbourhood all the more for them. RRRRs, for those who do not know, are also known as The Senegalese. They are not actually people from Senegal though they are likely to speak of Goree Island with a painful catch in their voice; will have gone to FESPACO in Burkina (if you don’t know what that is, you are not Senegalese) and have a CD collection full of Youssou N’dour even though they do not understand a lick of what he is singing. Dreadlocks are preferable, yoga sessions compulsory, deep I-am-trying-to-find-me vibes seep out of every pore, while a trip to Salvador da Bahia in Brazil is always on the cards.

The Matrix post below is bit short, but I just run out of steam as I was going along. To return later, I hope.

Scene IV

Tree-Hugger Smith: The great Mzee. We meet at last.

Mzee: And you are?

Tree-Hugger Smith: Smith, Tree-Hugger Smith.

Mzee: You all look the same to me.

Tree-Hugger Smith: Why are you so angry? Have you ever paused to consider aid’s beauty, its genius? It converts poverty and death into wealth and purpose. I remember when you were a young Boi; you could have been The One.
Hear me, Mzee, I’m going to be honest with you. We seek title over African wretchedness. Your problems are now ours; they became so the moment we started solving them for you, which is of course what this is all about. Ownership, Mzee, ownership. All power emanates from contestation, from crisis: your problems, our power. Look out that window. You had your time. The future is our world, Mzee. The future is our time.

Mzee: You’re empty.

Tree-Hugger Smith: I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This Africa, this reality, whatever you want to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the futility, the misery. I feel saturated by it and scared of it and yet it calls to me. Everytime I stop at a traffic light, I cannot help but wonder if one of them will ‘jack’ me. Whenever I pick one up at Gypsy’s, I cannot stand the clash of my desire to grind them into my bedsprings and the fear that their diseases will grind me six feet under. I can taste your misery and every time I do, I fear that you shall somehow take it away from me. I hate you and I owe you nothing, NOTHING!

Mzee: Quick Boi, re-read Fanon and Conrad – with courage this time. Smith is Mr. Kurtz re-made for our age. He is ‘… an emissary of pity, and science, and progress, and devil knows what else.”

Tree-Hugger Smith: Boi, are you listening to his ravings? I warned them, I told them over and over again, but they would not listen: never send a black man to do a white man’s job.

Mzee, left arm held rigidly at his side and the right pointing ahead so that it appears like a sword, charges toward Tree-Hugger Smith. His left arm makes a ponderous upward stab toward the already-dodging torso of Smith who focuses his attention to it. Smith is a blur of speed, head toward the offending arm, his face a rictus of fury. For a split second, his attention drifts from Mzee’s right arm which now starts a fast chopping motion to Smith’s vulnerable neck. The impact makes a heavy, meaty sound and Mzee’s arms cross, momentarily making the sign of the cross. It is the classic movement that accompanies the killing stroke that the matador applies to the bull in the corrida. Mzee’s momentum keeps him travelling forward and he slips behind and away from Smith. First blood has been drawn; Tree Hugger Smith now feels the measure of Mzee’s resources of anger and skill. But inside the red mist of his pain and rage he has detected a frailty in Mzee, a weakness disguised under layers of a righteous anger that cannot be sustained for lengthy periods.

Without Boi, Mzee will lose and so it is that both foes almost simultaneously turn toward him.

More coming up …

(c) MMK

The African and his Dangerous Loins

The piece below was published in the East African in the Fall of 2004. It is about a London conference that featured all the hypocrisies that I have been ranting about for the past week. It will be followed by a return to the The Matrix Redux: The African Version – stuff that is a bit lighter once this rant on donors and the aid-consuming elites leaves me, to return soon no doubt.

You’ve been hoodwinked. You’ve been had. You’ve been took. You’ve been led astray, run amuck. You’ve been bamboozled. — Malcolm X

African loins are dangerous to their owners and to society at large, especially when they pair up. At a late 2004 UN conference on reproductive health held in London – with the ominous sounding title of Countdown 2015 – African sex came under the spotlight for its almost unmitigated dangers. Speakers held forth on its unfortunate tendency to transmit lethal infections and failing that, to result in numerous babies who, contrary to popular belief, are actually destructive beings that impoverish their parents and undermine national economic aspirations. Countdown 2015 ended with the unanimous recommendation that Africans should make capacity building efforts empowering them to sheath their weapons of mass destruction in latex. Outrage was expressed that while facing the twin dangers of disease and babies, Africans are faced with the disadvantages dealt them by a destructive colonial legacy and the continuing neo-colonial attentions of the West. It was thus confusing in the extreme when this august body of scholars, reproductive health professionals and officials from African governments and NGOs concluded that Africans had a right to free condoms and healthcare paid for by those same Western nations.

The overarching goal of the conference was how to provide free sexual healthcare to the world’s poor by 2015. Its various motions lived up to the worst stereotypes of NGO-speak: impenetrable, pedantic and cursed with a hopeless idealism. Participants argued that unless all women and men have access to free contraception of their choice, it would be impossible for hunger, war and pestilence to be eliminated in Africa. The pressure civil society, which many attendees claimed to belong to, exerted on local governments and donors would result in funding being made available for contraceptives that would then be delivered by NGOs. The small talk back at the delegates’ $300 per night hotels was all about empowerment and the possibility of getting invited to the next conference at some exotic locale. Uplifting stories of poor folks’ ability to cope with privation were shared by our learned friends who spoke in hushed tones accompanied by furious little nods acknowledging the dignity of ‘the people’. I wondered whether the irony-free demand that rich nations were obligated to pay for the care of poor Africans was made in cruel jest or was evidence of an astonishing naivety. It also made me curious about the wider role that donors and NGOs and the so-called civil society play in Kenya.

Most of those attending the conference were united in the opinion that the industrialized West has an obligation to provide contraception and health for the African poor. In numerous speeches, the recipients of this aid were tagged as partners or even clients – in the case of NGO service provision – but there was little doubt that they exist downstream from the expertise and the money. They were relegated to a helpless, but dignified victim-hood beyond their ability to relieve save when their capacity receives attention from the NGO-donor crowd. So it was that speaker after speaker asserted the right to free condoms to be as fundamental as that of free speech.

Of course the glaring difference between the two is that while you can fight your government for the license to vote or speak your mind, you cannot marshal much of an argument if faraway governments do not safeguard your loins. Can Africans really enjoy rights based on Western charity? Is it possible that donor states are generous enough to provide free health and contraception to billions outside their boundaries? Common sense would provide answers that are resoundingly negative. But such conferences are not exercises in common sense, they are attempts to de-politicize African poverty so that it can be managed by a section of the upper class sustained on donor patronage and with no popular mandate.

It calls itself civil society. Even when it employs political language, for instance in railing against what it asserts is neo-colonialism or the devastating legacy of colonialism, the higher aim is to engender guilt in the liberal West and ensure the continued flow of donor money. Sections of this civil society – many who were present at Countdown 2015 – periodically make headlines for holding lively demonstrations against multinationals, regarding them to be at the forefront of a homogenizing globalization of capital and Anglo-American culture. The language employed is that of a class war whose European frontlines have since been abandoned by its originators – the revolutionary left. The paradoxical result is that NGOs funded by pro-globalization agencies such as USAID and DFID end up lauding poor Africans for being the ‘resistors’ of an ‘evil’ capitalism. Some are clever enough to spot the irony in this arrangement and usually extol themselves for being transgressive: ‘we take their money and then work against them…’ being a typical argument. One of the major reasons for these tortured exercise, which I will return to later, is the need to argue the need for social welfare programs. By identifying the source of the deepest structural problems to be Western, and thus making the case for where responsibility lies, they ensure that monies to apply band-aids will be available. Concurrently, they (rightly) assail African governments for lacking the capacity to implement these programs thus opening the path to their taking the lead in administering aid.

Countdown 2015 was billed as a follow up to a similar effort in Cairo a decade ago. Before then, population control was the rage in development circles. Policymakers regarded the birth rate in Africa – rapid compared to that of industrialized nations – as a leading cause of poverty. Kenya, if you will cast your mind back to the 1980s, had the distinction of being the world’s leading baby factory. Aid experts and the organizations they supported locally made strident efforts to communicate the dangers of the birth rate outstripping economic growth, which they concluded would inevitably lead to national destitution. In the two decades prior to the Cairo meeting, a top priority of international development organizations was to drastically slow population growth.

But the connection, whether real or imagined, between such a Malthusian outlook and the policies of countries that pursue forced sterilizations and compulsory abortions to control population growth proved to be a public relations disaster. It required a shift in tack. After Cairo, and prominently so in London a few weeks ago, the old population control ideas have now been repositioned as a human rights issue. This is partly for PR value, but is also an acknowledgement of new possibilities for expanding their domain introduced by the willingness of the donors to now countenance democratization with the fall of the Berlin Wall. When the Cold War was underway – with Moi as a valued client of the West and thus above criticism on his human rights record – NGOs had been forced to steer clear of ‘political’ issues.

In the 1980s, the fight against KANU’s dictatorship democracy was mostly led by clandestine movements like Mwakenya together with a small scattering of individuals and aboveground groups such as the Law Society of Kenya. By the early 1990s, as Western patronage for the regime retreated, the political space available to the opposition broadened. It now stretched beyond covert efforts and developed into a broadbased pro-democracy movement that enjoyed the support of a majority. So much so that the American ambassador, Smith Hempstone, now became a proud member of an opposition that only a few years earlier he would have demanded to be dispersed violently if need be. With this momentous shift, donor money was soon funding the now-familiar civil society programs in democratization, voter education etc.

Considered in hindsight, it would seem that the focus on babies was only incidental just as the present one has little to do with creating a vibrant democracy. The problems addressed by the local development enterprise must accord to donor priorities just as its programs must take the shape of the available funding. Ideally, it keeps its language abreast of political developments to the extent that its aforementioned limitations allow. The more it succeeds in taking the rhetorical lead in solving or framing local problems, the greater the legitimacy won; this is valuable currency in the world of conferences and proposal writing. Possessing radical bona fides helps, especially when earned by stances that are no longer perceived as a threat to donor interests.

If they cannot get their hands on a hero, it suffices to reach for legitimacy with a garbled radicalism characterized by vague leftist terms and positions. Success in this exercise confers a two-fold advantage. First, it sells better to those remnants of the Western left who regularly staff donor agencies. Secondly, it accords the particular NGO or individual a good position from which to challenge the government’s adequacy thus ensuring that donor funds are increasingly directed away from it and to NGOs that are by leaps and bounds taking over the governance of the country.

Kenya’s self-identified civil society, like other sections of the country’s elite, has arrived at its lofty position by being a go-between. Its A-game is to scrap for the right to represent the public to foreign interests and vice versa. The public has problems – big ones, while the foreigners have a guilty conscience to assuage or geo-political goals to achieve by dishing out cash. That is why it is not surprising when civil society’s members join the Cabinet and effortlessly abandon the positions they fought for in the past. To either camp, ordinary Kenyans are the bait that provides a house in Lavington, cocktails in Westlands and air-tickets abroad for these bigwigs.

According to one of the reports handed out by the conference organizers, participants decided on a worldwide program to guide national-level policy making for the next 20 years in all countries that signed up. Given that many African governments have abdicated a substantial part of their mandates to NGOs and donors, after years of being browbeaten and allowed a sense of entitlement to foreign aid, they will surely sign up. Once they do, and with their policies ‘guided’ by external actors, will there be any need for democracy as citizens are relegated to passive charity recipients and not the ultimate guides of national policy?

But it is not only the paternalism evident at the conference that was so objectionable, it was also the poverty of the idea that reducing our birth rate is a necessary step to building a prosperous society. Once in a while, I inadvertently have a conversation with a Western layperson that imagines Africa is overpopulated, and that this is one of the causes of its extreme poverty. Their solution often goes something like this: if you have fewer babies, there will be better schools, a less burdened health system, more food to go around…etc. Save the Children adverts of starving children begging for a Westerner to ‘adopt’ them for $12 per month would then cease according to this view. I was surprised that the learned and supposedly informed health professionals at the conference shared this outlook.

The reason they ignore the growing body of statistical and anecdotal evidence that contradicts Malthusian policies toward the poor is that they must keep up a relentless drumbeat of negativity to keep their programs going. It does not matter that over a dozen studies, including one by Nobel prize-winning economist Simon Kuznets, oppose the overpopulation consensus so evident at the conference. Rarely do findings demonstrating that faster population growth is not associated with slower economic expansion make their way into conference speeches. Africa actually needs more people and a higher population density. For example, Hong Kong, though it has forty times the density of China, has still managed to build a vibrant enough economy to provide a comfortable existence for most of its citizens despite most of them having been dirt poor fifty years ago. This is repeated in all of the Asian Tiger economies. Even the NGO outcry about the growth of slums, brought on by rapid urbanization, rather than being a universal evil has been a crucial factor in the growth of capital and wealth in every industrialized country during the last century.

Limiting the number of babies, or having more capacity building conferences, will not make for more wealth or less misery. The solution lies in stopping government from its perpetual beggardom and from having its policies guided by donors and the civil society NGOs they fund. That the government is the biggest employer, spender and consumer of national resources, while it prostrates itself to the donors, means that its bankruptcy of ideas and lack of sovereign will is communicated to an inordinately large percentage of the social and economic life of the country. At present, this state of affairs faces little opposition. The very rich who it would be thought have an intrinsic interest in limiting the role of government in socio-economic affairs do no such thing despite such oversight usually resulting in higher business taxation and regulation. It is because that 50-year old guy with a Pajero is too often the one who, as part of the political elite, has made money on fraudulent deals in the ministries. Reducing the reach of government would reduce his ‘opportunities’. Thus his sense of relief now that donors are back to providing government with budget support after they had turned to the NGO sector as the preferred deliverer of services during the late 1990s. Alas, this state of affairs had even forced him to ponder dropping the businessman moniker and writing up a proposal to launch a charity. For their part NGOs welcome donor funding, but try and make the argument that government is too corrupt to take a lead in delivering aid.

The fight against corruption has only incidentally to do with its effects to these two groups, rhetoric notwithstanding. It is just another way that civil society haves wage war against the political elite have-mores. Both groups will deliver Kenyans to the bidders, and will continue doing so by fighting turf battles that the public assumes represent their interests – if these are served, it will only be incidentally.

What is not accounted for so far in this essay is the game on the donor side. Are the monies promised for condoms or commissions launched to investigate yet another African crisis motivated solely by liberal guilt or traditional geo-political goals such as that of expanding the donor country’s sphere of influence? Toward what are Kenyans being guided? The briefest answer is thus: to a world where democracy is good only for making limited service choices and the public has scant chance of fundamentally re-orienting its political sphere. Keenly awaited political goals such as most of those included under the human rights banner will, by virtue of the depoliticised approach to them and their spearheading by foreign funded bodies, replace an organic political dispensation with a global one. FGM will be eliminated, women freed from patriarchy and older people from ageism by agents drinking from the same fount, many who do not understand the grand vision that will be realised should their particular campaign reach fruition.

The result will be a legal and moral code that is everywhere similar, one characterised by its contempt and enmity to the political life of the multitude of publics around the world. The only difference between Missouri and Nyanza will in be their menus and traditional dances. Culture will be robbed of its animating power, robbed ultimately of the dynamism arising from difference and expressed as political opposition. An ostensibly neutral body of law which will be nothing but an enthronement of the powers that be will hold politics at bay for it is only in that domain that the public can express its will. But is it so bad to have this project succeed is the obvious challenge to the negative tone of this article. Would not a universal human rights regime and a technocratic management of social welfare be preferable to the deluge of crises that is our lot? Perhaps so, but this vision will never be realised.

We are caught in the march of history without being its beneficiaries. The donor monies from up north will always be too scant to fundamentally solve our poverty-induced problems. Funding will actually shrink with time, as it has been doing since the end of the Cold War. Yet our ability to generate entrepreneurial capital remains stunted by the statist instincts of civil society and the political elites whose hold on the levers of government – or their NGO alternates – are the key to their sustenance. What is being created is a new management system. The old one managed the war against communism. This one must cap the violence that may emanate from disparate and opposed political voices, which could threaten the security of the West – whether via increased illegal immigration or the creation of environments that generate anti-western terrorism. The system should appear to have all the working parts of a democratic polity: government, opposition and civil society. The rhetoric issuing from it will be stridently pro-people, while its proponents will wax lyrical about the universal goals and responsibilities of Humanity; anything to keep you engaged with the donor world and away from thinking or acting parochially, tribally, by sex.

Kenya, and countries like it, will remain in a state of suspension between implosion and sputtering progress, between crippling poverty and an over-taxed, over-managed petty capitalism. Being suspended in this miserly, degenerate state will be an invaluable benchmark for those other parts of the world whose production of capital is increasing rapidly. We shall comfort the despairing in those places for we are incalculably worse off. Our role is to be the other, except not a threatening other thanks to the management system. We will be pitied, provided with charity and used as the backdrop for societies whose nihilism has grown apace with its riches, and that is now in need of moral crusades that will not upset its applecart. We are consigned to be the blackspot that must be stopped from spoiling everyone else’s party and that allows for the modest appeasement of Western conscience.

The Pitfalls of National Consciousness

This should be required reading for every single African because it says it all. It was first published in 1959 and is prophetic to say the least. Read on and see the course of your country foretold … Replace bourgeoisie with babi and see how it reads

The Wretched of the Earth
by Frantz Fanon

Chapter 3

The Pitfalls of National Consciousness (excerpts)

HISTORY teaches us clearly that the battle against colonialism does not run straight away along the lines of nationalism. For a very long time the native devotes his energies to ending certain definite abuses: forced labour, corporal punishment, inequality of salaries, limitation of political rights, etc. This fight for democracy against the oppression of mankind will slowly leave the confusion of neo-liberal universalism to emerge, sometimes laboriously, as a claim to nationhood. It so happens that the unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of the people, their laziness, and, let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps.

National consciousness, instead of being the all-embracing crystallization of the innermost hopes of the whole people, instead of being the immediate and most obvious result of the mobilization of the people, will be in any case only an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been. The faults that we find in it are quite sufficient explanation of the facility with which, when dealing with young and independent nations, the nation is passed over for the race, and the tribe is preferred to the state. These are the cracks in the edifice which show the process of retrogression that is so harmful and prejudicial to national effort and national unity. We shall see that such retrograde steps with all the weaknesses and serious dangers that they entail are the historical result of the incapacity of the national middle class to rationalize popular action, that is to say their incapacity to see into the reasons for that action.

This traditional weakness, which is almost congenital to the national consciousness of under-developed countries, is not solely the result of the mutilation of the colonized people by the colonial regime. It is also the result of the intellectual laziness of the national middle class, of its spiritual penury, and of the profoundly cosmopolitan mould that its mind is set in.

The national middle class which takes over power at the end of the colonial regime is an under-developed middle class. It has practically no economic power, and in any case it is in no way commensurate with the bourgeoisie of the mother country which it hopes to replace. In its wilful narcissism, the national middle class is easily convinced that it can advantageously replace the middle class of the mother country. But that same independence which literally drives it into a comer will give rise within its ranks to catastrophic reactions, and will oblige it to send out frenzied appeals for help to the former mother country. The university and merchant classes which make up the most enlightened section of the new state are in fact characterized by the smallness of their number and their being concentrated in the capital, and the type of activities in which they are engaged: business, agriculture and the liberal professions. Neither financiers nor industrial magnates are to be found within this national middle class. The national bourgeoisie of under-developed countries is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labour; it is completely canalized into activities of the intermediary type. Its innermost vocation seems to be to keep in the running and to be part of the racket. The psychology of the national bourgeoisie is that of the businessman, not that of a captain of industry; and it is only too true that the greed of the settlers and the system of embargoes set up by colonialism has hardly left them any other choice.

Under the colonial system, a middle class which accumulates capital is an impossible phenomenon.

The objective of nationalist parties as from a certain given period is, we have seen, strictly national. They mobilize the people with slogans of independence, and for the rest leave it to future events. When such parties are questioned on the economic programme of the state that they are clamouring for, or on the nature of the regime which they propose to install, they are incapable of replying, because, precisely, they are completely ignorant of the economy of their own country.

This economy has always developed outside the limits of their knowledge. They have nothing more than an approximate, bookish acquaintance with the actual and potential resources of their country’s soil and mineral deposits; and therefore they can only speak of these resources on a general and abstract plane.

The national economy of the period of independence is not set on a new footing. It is still concerned with the ground-nut harvest, with the cocoa crop and the olive yield. In the same way there is no change in the marketing of basic products, and not a single industry is set up in the country. We go on sending out raw materials; we go on being Europe’s small farmers who specialize in unfinished products.

Yet the national middle class constantly demands the nationalization of the economy and of the trading sectors. This is because, from their point of view, nationalization does not mean placing the whole economy at the service of the nation and deciding to satisfy the needs of the nation. For them, nationalization does not mean governing the state with regard to the new social relations whose growth it has been decided to encourage. To them, nationalization quite simply means the transfer into native hands of those unfair advantages which are a legacy of the colonial period.

Since the middle class has neither sufficient material nor intellectual resources (by intellectual resources we mean engineers and technicians) it limits its claims to the taking over of business offices and commercial houses formerly occupied by the settlers. The national bourgeoisie steps into the shoes of the former European settlement: doctors, barristers, traders, commercial travellers, general agents and transport agents. It considers that the dignity of the country and its own welfare require that it should occupy all these posts. From now on it will insist that all the big foreign companies should pass through its hands, whether these companies wish to keep on their connexions with the country, or to open it up. The national middle class discovers its historic mission: that of intermediary.

Seen through its eyes, its mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation … The national bourgeoisie will be quite content with the role of the Western bourgeoisie’s business agent, and it will play its part without any complexes in a most dignified manner. But this same lucrative role, this cheap-jack’s function, this meanness of outlook and this absence of all ambition symbolize the incapability of the national middle class to fulfil its historic role of bourgeoisie. Here, the dynamic, pioneer aspect, the characteristics of the inventor and of the discoverer of new worlds which are found in all national bourgeoisies are lamentably absent …

It follows the Western bourgeoisie along its path of negation and decadence without ever having emulated it in its first stages of exploration and invention, stages which are an acquisition of that Western bourgeoisie whatever the circumstances. In its beginnings, the national bourgeoisie of the colonial countries identifies itself with the decadence of the bourgeoisie of the West. We need not think that it is jumping ahead; it is in fact beginning at the end. It is already senile before it has come to know the petulance, the fearlessness or the will to succeed of youth.

The national bourgeoisie will be greatly helped on its way towards decadence by the Western bourgeoisies, who come to it as tourists avid for the exotic, for big-game hunting and for casinos. The national bourgeoisie organizes centres of rest and relaxation and pleasure resorts to meet the wishes of the Western bourgeoisie. Such activity is given the name of tourism, and for the occasion will be built up as a national industry …

Because it is bereft of ideas, because it lives to itself and cuts itself off from the people, undermined by its hereditary incapacity to think in terms of all the problems of the nation as seen from the point of view of the whole of that nation, the national middle class will have nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager for Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe.

The behaviour of the national landed proprietors is practically identical with that of the middle classes of the towns. The big farmers have, as soon as independence was proclaimed, demanded the nationalization of agricultural production. Through manifold scheming practices they manage to make a clean sweep of the farms formerly owned by settlers, thus reinforcing their hold on the district. But they do not try to introduce new agricultural methods, nor to farm more intensively, nor to integrate their farming systems into a genuinely national economy.

In fact, the landed proprietors will insist that the state should give them a hundred times more facilities and privileges than were enjoyed by the foreign settlers in former times …

The landed bourgeoisie refuses to take the slightest risk, and remains opposed to any venture and to any hazard. It has no intention of building upon sand; it demands solid investments and quick returns. The enormous profits which it pockets, enormous if we take into account the national revenue, are never reinvested. The money-in-the-stocking mentality is dominant in the psychology of these landed proprietors. Sometimes, especially in the years immediately following independence, the bourgeoisie does not hesitate to invest in foreign banks the profits that it makes out of its native soil.

On the other hand large sums are spent on display: on cars, country houses, and on all those things which have been justly described by economists as characterizing an under-developed bourgeoisie.

It is from this view-point that we must interpret the fact that in young, independent countries, here and there federalism triumphs. We know that colonial domination has marked certain regions out for privilege. The colony’s economy is not integrated into that of the nation as a whole …

Immediately after independence, the nationals who live in the more prosperous regions realize their good luck, and show a primary and profound reaction in refusing to feed the other nationals. The districts which are rich in ‘ground-nuts, in cocoa and in diamonds come to the forefront, and dominate the empty panorama which the rest of the nation presents. The nationals of these rich regions look upon the others with hatred, and find in them envy and covetousness, and homicidal impulses. Old rivalries which were there before colonialism, old inter-racial hatred come to the surface …

African unity, that vague formula, yet one to which the men and women of Africa were passionately attached, and whose operative value served to bring immense pressure to bear on colonialism, African unity takes off the mask, and crumbles into regionalism inside the hollow shell of nationality itself. The national bourgeoisie, since it is strung up to defend its immediate interests, and sees no farther than the end of its nose, reveals itself incapable of simply bringing national unity into being, or of building up the nation on a stable and productive basis. The national front which has forced colonialism to withdraw cracks up, and wastes the victory it has gained.

As we see it, the bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie is not apparent in the economic field only. They have come to power in the name of a narrow nationalism and representing a race; they will prove themselves incapable of triumphantly putting into practice a programme with even a minimum humanist content, in spite of fine-sounding declarations which are devoid of meaning since the speakers bandy about in irresponsible fashion phrases that come straight out of European treatises on morals and political philosophy. When the bourgeoisie is strong, when it can arrange everything and everybody to serve its power, it does not hesitate to affirm positively certain democratic ideas which claim to be universally applicable. There must be very exceptional circumstances if such a bourgeoisie, solidly based economically, is forced into denying its own humanist ideology. The Western bourgeoisie, though fundamentally racist, most often manages to mask this racism by a multiplicity of nuances which allow it to preserve intact its proclamation of mankind’s outstanding dignity.

As regards internal affairs and in the sphere of institutions, the national bourgeoisie will give equal proof of its incapacity. In a certain number of under-developed countries the parliamentary game is faked from the beginning. Powerless economically, unable to bring about the existence of coherent social relations, and standing on the principle of its domination as a class, the bourgeoisie chooses the solution that seems to it the easiest, that of the single party. It does not yet have the quiet conscience and the cairn that economic power and the control of the state machine alone can give. It does not create a state that reassures the ordinary citizen, but rather one that rouses his anxiety

The state, which by its strength and discretion ought to inspire confidence and disarm and lull everybody to sleep, on the contrary seeks to impose itself in spectacular fashion. It makes a display, it jostles people and bullies them, thus intimating to the citizen that he is in continual danger. The single party is the modem form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, unmasked, unpainted, unscrupulous and cynical.

It is true that such a dictatorship does not go very far. It cannot halt the processes of its own contradictions. Since the bourgeoisie has not the economic means to ensure its domination and to throw a few crumbs to the rest of the country; since, moreover, it is preoccupied with filling its pockets as rapidly as possible but also as prosaically as possible, the country sinks all the more deeply into stagnation. And in order to hide this stagnation and to mask this regression, to reassure itself and to give itself something to boast about, the bourgeoisie can find nothing better to do than to erect grandiose buildings in the capital and to lay out money on what are called prestige expenses.

The national bourgeoisie turns its back more and more on the interior and on the real facts of its undeveloped country, and tends to look towards the former mother country and the foreign capitalists who count on its obliging compliance. As it does not share its profits with the people and in no way allows them to enjoy any of the dues that are paid to it by the big foreign companies, it will discover the need for a popular leader to whom will fall the dual role of stabilizing the regime and of perpetuating the domination of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois dictatorship of under-developed countries draws its strength from the existence of a leader. We know that in the well-developed countries the bourgeois dictatorship is the result of the economic power of the bourgeoisie. In the under-developed countries on the contrary the leader stands for moral power, in whose shelter the thin and poverty-stricken bourgeoisie of the young nation decides to get rich.

The people who for years on end have seen this leader and heard him speak, who from a distance in a kind of dream have followed his contests with the colonial power, spontaneously put their trust in this patriot. Before independence, the leader generally embodies the aspirations of the people for independence, political liberty and national dignity. But as soon as independence is declared, far from embodying in concrete form the needs of the people in what touches bread, land and the restoration of the country to the sacred hands of the people, the leader will reveal his inner purpose: to become the general president of that company of profiteers impatient for their returns which constitutes the national bourgeoisie.

There exists inside the new (postcolonial) regime, however, an inequality in the acquisition of wealth and in monopolization. Some have a double source of income and demonstrate that they are specialized in opportunism. Privileges multiply and corruption triumphs, while morality declines. Today the vultures are too numerous and too voracious in proportion to the lean spoils of the national wealth. The party, a true instrument of power in the hands of the bourgeoisie, reinforces the machine, and ensures that the people are hemmed in and immobilized. The party helps the government to hold the people down. It becomes more and more clearly anti-democratic, an implement of coercion …

In these poor, under-developed countries, where the rule is that the greatest wealth is surrounded by the greatest poverty, the army and the police constitute the pillars of the regime; an army and a police force (another rule which must not be forgotten) which are advised by foreign experts. The strength of the police force and the power of the army are proportionate to the stagnation in which the rest of the nation is sunk …

The observations that we have been able to make about the national bourgeoisie bring us to a conclusion which should cause no surprise. In under-developed countries, the bourgeoisie should not be allowed to find the conditions necessary for its existence and its growth.

A bourgeoisie similar to that which developed in Europe is able to elaborate an ideology and at the same time strengthen its own power. Such a bourgeoisie, dynamic, educated and secular, has fully succeeded in its undertaking of the accumulation of capital and has given to the nation a minimum of prosperity. In under-developed countries, we have seen that no true bourgeoisie exists; there is only a sort of little greedy caste, avid and voracious, with the mind of a huckster, only too glad to accept the dividends that the former colonial power hands out to it. This get-rich-quick middle class shows itself incapable of great ideas or of inventiveness. It remembers what it has read in European textbooks and imperceptibly it becomes not even the replica of Europe, but its caricature.

Frantz Fanon

The Weekend I spent in the Queen’s Compound at Windsor

By the time sixty University of London postgraduates finished squeezing into buses rented to ferry them on a two-day retreat, I sensed significant events were in the offing. The prospect of guesting at a former game lodge on the grounds of Windsor Castle had frankly excited me, but I was trying to keep it bottled up by adopting a weary I-have-seen-this-type-of-thing attitude.

In the hour that it took to drive from London to Berkshire, I had abandoned all efforts at being cool and was experiencing an expectant glow. Cumberland Lodge, set in the tranquil landscape of Great Park (formerly known as the ‘King’s woodland at Windsor’), is a massive brown brick mansion surrounded by gardens in which nature’s untidy ways have been quietly subdued. After checking in, we were immediately ushered into a lecture on the history of the lodge.

Later, upon a brief investigation, I discovered that the Duke of Cumberland was better known as Butcher Bill in Scotland on account of his enthusiastic embrace of murder. Somewhat understandably given the English penchant for keeping up polite facades, the 30-minute talk on the lodge’s history had failed to mention this little fact. The woman who had made the presentation got rather thin-lipped when hours later, in a burst of drunken inspiration, I joined an otherwise dignified Swede postgraduate in accosting her and loudly demanding that they change the name of the place to Butcher Bill’s lodge. The whole business got slightly more annoying for this dear lady when we decided to chase the deer peacefully lurking about, thus breaking the air of royal tranquillity if only briefly. They could be killed, but only by the royals and so their being scared by a commoner, especially an African one, appeared to her, I suppose, highly inappropriate. Remembering these incidents now, I can supply no strong argument in my defence except to suggest that they were a childishly expressed desire to dig below the surface.

But let me return to Cumberland and how he came by that sobriquet – we were after all his guests in some fashion. It bears getting into some (irrelevant) detail for though in certain quarters Cumberland was known as Butcher Bill, he was also referred to as Stinking Bill and Sweet Bill. He even had a flower named after him. Whence the discrepancy in names, why would he boast of a mansion in the King’s Woodland, and how to explain the presence of Africans (joined with the Scots in feeling the colonial boot) in this residence so many years after his (in)famous acts? You must admit that these are mysteries, perhaps useless ones to understand, but they are interesting nevertheless.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, Cumberland, after suffering a defeat at the hands of the French as the commander of an Anglo-Dutch-Hanoverian alliance known as the Pragmatic army, was recalled to England to put the threatening Scots in their place. Charles Edward Stuart, called the Young Pretender by those ill-disposed toward him, grandson of the deposed king James II, had invaded England. After several engagements, with the Highlanders at his command using guerrilla tactics, matters came to a head in the Battle of Culloden where Cumberland’s army inflicted a crashing defeat and killed at least a thousand brave Scots. The Young Pretender eventually settled in France after having unsuccessfully tried to raise another effort against the English and used feminine disguises to escape the Royal Army. But that is a story for another occasion. Suffice it to say that Cumberland had carried the day.

After the battle, when our noble duke was asked for orders, he reputedly wrote, ‘No quarter’, on the back of a playing card. You can easily imagine the airiness of the gesture as Billy took in a game of cribbage with a brandy and a cigar in hand. What followed was the cold-blooded murder of all the Scottish survivors, many who had left the field wounded and hidden in peasant huts. He remained in Scotland for three months, captured three thousand prisoners and executed just over a hundred of them. His actions were met with great acclaim in England where he was given a generous pension and a flower named after him to mark his success. This blossom is known as the Sweet William in England, but in Scotland is called the Stinking Billy.

Knowing these details, consider the raison d’être of Cumberland Lodge given these two hundred and fifty years later: ‘to encourage an interchange of thought between students, especially those from the University of London and from the Commonwealth…to encourage the investigation and discussion of the nature of Man and Society’. As I return to the unimportant events that transpired on my weekend stay, consider what role time and intention play in transforming the violent and domineering into the charitable and democratic.

In the interest of honesty, I must report that on our first night at the lodge, students, who perhaps should have known better, stole a bottle of wine from the kitchens seeing that the bar would be closed by 11pm and that there was a strict injunction against providing your own liquor. Word is that they were acting out of a drunken desire for adventure. One of them, a sweet tempered and once removed conspirator in the wine lift, was dispatched to procure a corkscrew from a youngish bartender who seemed to have the eye for her. Unfortunately, the fellow turned out to be less horny and more principled on matters of theft, which I admit threw me. He steadfastly refused to yield the corkscrew and insisted on knowing why she needed it. Feeling that the game was up, this young lady came running to her compatriots in a panic at the dire consequences of robbery on the Queen’s own grounds.

Now this created a dilemma for the guilty parties who will remain unnamed for the moment. While this young woman had been a cheerful member of the planning group, she had not, in a manner of speaking, put her fingers in the cookie jar. If anything, she had been assigned the less morally compromised task of procuring the corkscrew. Being English, and thus possibly clued into the dire punishments that attend petty thefts in the land of Queens and dungeons, she was bubbling over with fear and trepidation. But, as she assured us, chin awobble and in quivering tones, she would take this on the chin without giving up the guiltier parties.

This of course was received not so much with relief, but with the faint beginnings of panic as we sensed that her nerves did not seem strong enough to withstand steady interrogation. And from the look of things, what I suspect was the faint memory of Butcher Bill in his former home, it was clear that the interrogation would prove to be brutal in the extreme.

I tried assuring her that it was an insignificant prank that would amount to nothing, not believing myself as I considered her tear-swollen features. I attempted summoning what I imagined was a rousing speech, deriding the bartender and suggesting that he would not, and indeed could not, take the matter any further on account of its pettiness and the lack of fingerprint proof. After all, I concluded, they did not even know a bottle had been stolen yet.

Having strengthened her backbone enough to reduce the tears into sniffles, I decided to investigate how much information the other side had. Approaching the bartender and his elderly, ladylike assistant – who had earlier refused to serve me drinks because of my inability to accompany the request with a ‘please’. After some friendly banter, it emerged that they suspected our young woman and a companion of stealing a bottle of wine and hiding it under the staircase. Punishment was going to levelled at the whole group by closing the bar a full hour early. Now this was serious stuff given the carefully laid plan to binge drink during that crucial hour. They were determined, like the former owner of the house, to giving no quarter. It came to me in a flash that the downstairs – the servants – in such a home would never ever forgive the transgressions of the upstairs if they had the power to exact punishment. These two had been thrown a bone, a reason to gnaw on it and they were not going to let go.

A well considered discussion now got underway as I dug deep, trying to find a sober set of ideas. With surprising ease, out came a rant on man’s innate corruption and the temptations that, alas, are too often the pitfalls of badly raised youth. Joined in an outraged chorus by the not-so-horny bartender and the please lady, it soon became clear THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH THE YOUNG PEOPLE OF TODAY. ‘But surely, if we are in a crisis here in England on account of declining moral standards, what are we the decent people who have worked hard and lived honestly to do about it all?’ I demanded to know in the midst of this moral love-fest.

I had actually started to feel stabs of great anger against youth crime and a steady sympathy for these two good souls found in their peaceful lair by insidious wine thieves. But I still had a job to do. ‘Are we to depend on collective punishment; on the idea that the sins of the few can be visited on the many; is the message of the New Testament to be disregarded?’ I asked brightly. This was now too much for Mr. Principle and Lady Please; the African was right and deserved a free pint. And then several more. To my credit, I tried refusing these offers suggesting that somewhere in my foggy, largely conscience-free mind, there remained a hint of guilt. But what the hell, I was not going to refuse another pint of London Pride with so much riding on it.

(c) MMK

419 Scam: Naomi Bangura’s Certificate of Deposit

Naomi Bangura’s certificate of deposit to prove how much money she has in Ivory Coast and needs my help to move offshore. For the rest of the story, read the posts on the 419 Scam Letter.  Posted by Hello

Dear naomi,
I am sorry have been out of contacy. sory about you feeling so sad. as i told you one of my workerts got hurt ansd that is what we have beenn focusing on. really want to help you but am wondering about the money. just when you wrote me and even kindly sent me your picture (you are a very younf and atractive girl) someone wrote me a letter who is also in the same probliems like you. is this common problem? he was writing from liberia and had a lot of monery in the bank. almost fifty million which he offered to share if i helped him. i am tempted to also do busines wityh him, what do you thinlk? it would be good money for me and it would also help youbng people in trouble. tell me your thoughts.
thank you and cheers.

Dear Mr MMKs.

I thank you so much for your letter at last. And I am
sorry for what heppened to your worker.

Please, I will want you to be serious about my case
and help me.

Here is the website of the bank,where my father
depoisted the money (www.boahq.com) you can contact
them for the transfer of this fund,so that I will
leave here now that the political problems has not
gotten worse.

For the person that contacted you.I do not know him in
person,But there are many people here who lost their
parents in the cause of the war.If your spirit direct
you to help him as well, I will not stop you.

I am looking forward to hear from you.

Miss Naomi Bangura.

How are you sir?i see it neccesary to write you
once again,i hope you are coping with the problem your
company had in dead of your worker,i hope the
situation is coming down.
I know the Lord is in control and i have been
praying day and night to see that the lord see us
through for this transaction,i still beleive that the
lord brought you to be a help and it shall not be
invain,you know am a young girl and don’t know much
about business and i know with you everything shall go
smoothly when i come to your country to work with
you.Have you contacted the bank? i went to the bank to
confirm if you have contacted them and i was told that
you have not contacted them,pls sir don’t waist time
remember you promised me,and they are still waiting
for your lawyers to call them.
Sir, there is one thing i noticed from the bank
director, he seems not to be much happy because i want
to send this money abroad and he told me that he has a
friend in toronto canada who deals in diamond and he
will contact him for me but i said no that i trust you
and i cannot do business with anybody except
you,tuesday last week i went to consult a lawyer
concerning what the bank director told me,when two of
us got to the bank my lawyer asked the bank director
that as long as your name is in the bank file that he
has no legal right to contact anybody who is not my
choice or desire,so my lawyer is with us here to
ensure every thing go well and he is worried and he
said you should do quick so that after the tranfer of
this money i can come to meet you.
Please,sir call the bank director so that they
can tell you what to do for the transfer of this
Thanks and GOD bless you and your family.
yours Naomi

dear naomi, as always I am happy to hear from you. but worrid. i talked to my lawyer and he seemd a bit hesitant because he said my busines is very in debt. but then i told him that you seemed very nice and showed him the certificate of deposit. i hope that he makes a conection with the bank because he promised. how are you? tell me quickly when my lawyer contacts bank.

Dear MMK,

I thank you for your letter and I appreciade your
continued efforts.

Please, you have to force your lawyer to contact the
bank as soon as possible,so that this money will be
transferred to your account.

You are in a better position,to inform me when your
lawyer contacted the bank,because where I am staying
is very far from the bank,and some times I do not
have enough money for transport.

Please, psuh your lawyer to hasten up, I am very

Thanks and God bless you.


A Quick Note From An African in Paris

I have just returned to London from a long weekend in Paris. Ah, Paris – all the clichés are true: the waiters are abrupt, the women sophisticated and the city is pathetically beautiful. There was such a relaxed atmosphere, which was especially noticeable among Africans when compared to their London or even New York counterparts. But then there were many who looked like they had bleached their skins, leaving them with blotchy – albeit it relaxed – faces and super dark elbows. It was a strange juxtaposition: the sense of home many of them exuded and the depths of self-doubt implied by a bleached visage. As for the hair styles… I can now say that Paris should be a UN-level International Emergency on the same level as Iraq and Darfur. If you really want to make a Bill Gates Sized fortune, start a hair salon in Paris. I usually cannot identify a weave if it was whipped into my face, but on the streets of Paris it was a choice between noticing the Arc de Triomphe or the reddish, tangled bushes many sisters were walking beneath. The weaves called attention to themselves, looking like a cross between the Medusa’s snakes and a small wet poodle lying atop a head. I worried that a cigarette butt would be flicked too high, sparking an immediate conflagration, an agonizing death and a flood of lawsuits against the Chinese manufacturers of hair pieces.

Folks in Paris are friendly though, engaged with what is going on around them. They do not hunch their shoulders and look into the middle distance like their Anglo counterparts. And though the place takes bureaucratic procedure to heights that Stalin’s Russia would have quaked at, it is all so smooth and well thought out. At least that was my touristy impression. As for being a tourist, this time in Paris, I was unabashed about it. There is something of consuming another culture that I find quite surreal as an African whose country is usually on the receiving end. It was like being in a shop with peoples’ lives on sale. Everything felt available, subject to the whims expressed through my credit card. Of course I knew that the truth is different: Paris is a city interested first in itself and not the outsider. But still that sense of ownership persisted as a tiny, intense feeling of power. I liked it. And so in a bid to capture the European tourist’s perpetual desire to capture an ‘authentic’ African on film, I tried to do the same by seeking out stereotypical beret wearing, red wine drinking, Marxist spouting French men and their clad-in-black female counterparts. I found very few and actually felt surrounded at all times by people who were from everywhere except Paris. More later. I have two stories of women that I saw: one at the Gare du Nord train station, waiting, I thought, for an inconsiderate lover and the other walking toward the Louvre museum holding a bunch of tulips with the cocksure step of a happy lover. Coming up later …

Can a 419 Scam Letter Lead to Romance?

I received a 419 email letter a year ago and on the spur of the moment decided to begin a dialogue with the writer, a Miss Naomi Bangura whose father “lost his life in the course of the crisis in Seira loene.” Fortunately for her, he had willed her $14.3 million in a Cote D’Ivoire bank account. Now she just needed my help in getting it out of the country. And of course in return for this help I would make my fortune. This is how the relationship got underway. My replies to her first two (un-edited) letters are in italics; please read from top going down, there will be future posts continuing this weird exchange.

Miss Naomi Bangura
Avenue 22 Rue 4
Treichville ,Abidjan,
Cote d’Ivoire


I love your profile and i have Decided to get in touch
with you,to see if you can help me solve my problem.

My name is naomi bangura. My father had lost his life in
the course of the crisis in Seira loene .My father
willed in cash, the sum of $14.3M USD which he
deposited in a bank here in Cote D’ivoire in suspence
account.in Abidjan west Africa, with enabling
conditionalities for the release of the fund which are
as follows:

(1) That I must be 24 years or above.(2) That upon
request for the release of the fund, there must be
evidence of investment intentions especially outside
the west africa, I contact you therefore to confirm if
you can absorb me in partnership in your company or
possibly advise me on any investment opportunity in
your country.

When I reach agreement with you, the bank will release
my fund into an account that you shall nominate and I
will come over to you to commence business partnership
with you with the fund.

I expect your urgent response including your
addresses, your telephone and fax number.

Thanks for expected cooperation.

My regards,

miss naomi bangura.

dear naomi,
I am so sorry for your los. I have heard of Sierra leone on tv and know that it is having lots of problems. You appear to be ver young and I hope you can be helped. have you tried save the children? I give them money every year. my business is in tiling residential houses here in croydon in london so i do not know if that is the kind of business tjat the bank would accept. but if it is, write me an email and maybe you can do some business with us. I look forward to hearing from you and may the lord bless you.

Miss Naomi Bangura
Avenue 22 Rue 4
Treichville ,Abidjan,
Cote d’Ivoire

Dearest,MMKiam happy to read from you today and i know,
that God will use you to bless me. Firstly, i want to assure you of the safety of this transaction and i will invest it in your business venture as soon you claim this fund from the local bank in abidjan. i will also give you the deposit certificate my late father use to deposit the fund with the bank for proof. I will like you to enter into an agreement with me so that the business will be legal. I will go to the bank later today to ask the president of the bank if they will accept you you.I know that they will accept you, i will like you to send me your telephone number and fax number for me to submit to the bank to enable the bank to contact you for further directives regarding this fund that is still in their fix suspense account.

I am tired of staying in this country because of the political problems and the safety of my life. i want to meet you soonest so that i continue my education. God bless you and the family.

Mr MMK, I want you to re-assure me that you will not betray me immediately you confirm this fund to your account, i want to make it known that this fund is my last hope and i will not live to loose it.Awaiting your prompt response.

Yours Naomi Bangura





Dear Naomi,
i am sorry that I hgave been out of touch for the last week, one of our employees died in a tragic accident faling of the roof of a building when fixing a leak. anyway, i am glad that the bank has accepted my offer of us doing busines together. but our lawyers need to be in contact with the bank directly so could you please send us the details and we can take it from there. also could you send a picture of yourself to me?
Take care.

This continues the curious correspondence that I had with a one Naomi Bangura who ‘loved my profile’ and decided to ask for my help securing a fortune her father left her in Ivory Coast. Since the letter found me while I was conducting research in Kigali’s jails last year, I was bored enough to seek entertainment wherever I could find it. So I adopted the persona of a working class Englishman who owns a roofing company in the London suburb of Croydon and has recently had an employee killed on the job. My replies are in italics and the first few exchanges can be found in an earlier posting on April 28th.

Dear Mr MMK,

I thank you for your letter,as I regret of the death
of your fellow employees. I pray for his soul to rest
in perfect peace.

I think I welcome your idea of involving your
lawyers,at least it will help to speed up this,so that
this money will be transferred without any delay.

Please here is the contact of the bank.

Bank of Africa,Abidjan

The contact person is Dr Kevin Idris,the director of
remittance department.

Please, I will appreciate if you contact the bank
immediately,and request them to transfer this money,so
that I will leave here as soon as possible,to live a
better life and continue my education.

I have attached the certificate of deposit and my
picture for you,and will be glad to see yours.

Thanks you and God bless you.

Naomi Bangura.

Dear MMK,
Beloved Mr MMK am very glad to have a person
like you on my way and i am sure is not a mistake
because before i got your contact i prayed and fasted
for 3 good days and this is divinely made by the power
of Jesus christ.
And i will not stop praying for you and all the
members of your family in Jesus name.
Please,sir i will you to contact me as soon as
you contact the bank.
Have you received my picture and bank document?
God bless you is my prayer.
yours naomi.

Sir,how are you today?am afraid because i have
not been hearing from you for a long time,after
sending my picture and bank document and contacts i
want to ask you wheather you have received them or
not;Have you contacted the bank?
Frankly,speaking i am worried for not hearing from
you,remember you promised to help me,this money is all
my hope and life you know there is political problem
here in ivory coast for confirmation check this
(WWW.ABIDJAN.NET).Being a young girl of my age i need
your help and direction and if you cannot help me is
better you let me know now so that i can look for
another person that can help me.
I know that you might be busy of one thing or the
other but you have to remember that am a young girl
and human being and i see you as my father.
My greetings to your family and may GOD bless you
all amen.
Am waiting for your message.

Dear naomi,
I am sorry have been out of contacy. sory about you feeling so sad. as i told you one of my workerts got hurt ansd that is what we have beenn focusing on. really want to help you but am wondering about the money. just when you wrote me and even kindly sent me your picture (you are a very younf and atractive girl) someone wrote me a letter who is also in the same probliems like you. is this common problem? he was writing from liberia and had a lot of monery in the bank. almost fifty million which he offered to share if i helped him. i am tempted to also do busines wityh him, what do you thinlk? it would be good money for me and it would also help youbng people in trouble. tell me your thoughts.
thank you and cheers.

Mass of Appetites: A Nairobi Bar Horror Story

I was wondering what to post and then thought of Buffet Park in Nairobi, which is a collection of bars and nyama choma joints in posh Hurlingham. I spent a number of entertaining evenings there this past December and was struck by a sense of being in a space built to accommodate appetites: intense longings and ambitions for position and power. You could tell from the way everyone’s eyes constantly scanned the room rating, dismissing, pleading and dissecting all. Whatever you had done during the day established your position in Buffet Park at night, and perhaps the reverse is true as well. Daytime victories in business, government or politics were reflected in nighttime winnings of sex, food and attention. Two sides of a coin. So I started thinking of a man who has been at this for a while, whose spirit is corrupt during the daytime and how he would behave at night. I called the guy Mass of Appetites and wrote this very short horror story about him. Enjoy the experiment, if you can.

The Mass of Appetites is always on the make, out on the town most nights of the week, like a shark that cannot stop swimming and hunting for a single moment lest it drown. His German automobile turns into the bar parking lot slowly, ponderously, with the drivers behind him hooting their exasperation. Appetites drives carefully and his car is always very clean. It has one of those pine tree air fresheners dangling from the back mirror alongside a small smiling green troll doll bought on a trip to Dubai last year. The inside of the car is immaculately cleaned and the outside polished to a dull sheen. He looks for the parking space that will afford the most people a look at his car and is willing to wait interminably for one to free up. He crouches in his seat, taking in the sights, with his soft paw-like hands holding onto the velvet-bound steering wheel. When the watchman informs him there are open parking spaces further down, he chooses his response carefully from his two-item menu: threaten or cajole.

He takes in the other cars in the lot, which are mostly Toyota Corollas bought from Dubai – the unmistakable mark of the striving classes. In the old days the ladder’s steps were: servant quarter in Golf Course, house in Buru Buru, a plot in Githurai, house in Plains View and the final move to Kileleshwa. Now it is about modes of transport: mathrees for a few years, the Shuttle, a used Nissan Sunny, new Corolla, used BMW then finally the Mercedes Kompressor. They will never rebel he thinks with an amusement laced with contempt, they will only keep switching their modes of trajectory to account for every national failure. Finally parked, he heaves his distended belly out of the car by first putting both feet on the ground then with a heavy grunt rising. He maintains surreptitious glances at the car, nervous that it will be stolen and also curious what everyone thinks of it.

Appetites ambles into the bar, beady eyes darting in all directions as he seeks friends and targets. His eyes take in the girls barely out of school, judging the firmness of thigh, the weight of buttock and most importantly the state of finance. He can guess within a few hundred shillings how much everyone has in their purse or wallet. Pocketing, he fingers a wad of notes with one finger and then subtly rubs it against his penis which is already semi-engorged with possibility. As he walks toward fellow appetites with whom he’s done ‘Tender business’ in the past and who he calls his friends but secretly loathes, he notices a girl, dressed in a tight black dress that hugs a curvaceous body, who is eyeing him with what she imagines is a knowing eye. A frission of excitement runs down his sweaty back. She is the best kind – the ones who imagine that they KNOW, who want to eat into his wad, to use him. He chuckles inwardly knowing that he is unusable and cannot be lied to because he has achieved the exalted state of decadence which is the truest form of freedom. It does not matter that she has coupled hundreds of times or has a boy she loves and comes to this bar only for the money, he can smell the remaining strands of innocence woven into her firm youthful flesh. He likes to be the final nail in the coffin. She will not know that when he heaves his hairy thighs off the bed with his fang dripping semen, he will have pulled the last bits of innocence out of her and transformed her into the undead.

He calls for a triple shot of Johnny Walker Black and three kilos of roast meat – fuel for the hunt – while loudly ordering a round of drinks for the table. Miming conversation with his fellow Appetites, who do not mind since they too are busy, he sweeps his eyes across the room taking in the men this time. He wonders whether they present any competition for his mission. He casts around seeking those that appear to be in love, wanting to watch them for little lapses that betray the futility of their attempt to find happiness. Spotting one such couple seated with the girl in black he notes the boy’s eyes occasionally glazing over as they covertly take in the sight of strangers’ thighs and arses. Soon the girl will be ready for Appetites when she finds out that her beloved, but slightly disappointing boyfriend is pawing her sister or sleeping with her best friend. He has seen betrayal a thousand times, but gets a delicious charge each time.

The girl in black gets up to go to the bathroom and Appetites, now in full Nosferatu mode, eyes her proud back which tapers to a point before her hips and buttocks explode outward and then settle onto thick hard thighs and thin calves. She walks slowly, uncomfortable in heels that are a bit too high for her, tottering and parting her way through the crowd with a subtle caress here and a hip nudge there. She will do, oh yes, there will be a feeding tonight. But first he must seek that dark, strong thing deep inside him that attracts his prey as surely a flame draws a fly to its destruction. He has never put a name to it, but knows that it emerges in the presence of Black Label, a wad of money, noise, low lights and innocence.

The meat arrives and he reluctantly invites the other Appetites to partake. They fall to it with unembarrassed relish. Tearing, guffawing mirthlessly, wiping grease off bulging, sagging cheeks and holding forth on “prots in Dadora”. Appetite matches them bite for bite, caressing his pot belly to summon the confidence monster who must emerge soon if the girl is not to fall to one of his companions. Here she comes.

She is heading for her table but her eyes are fixed on the table of Appetites, aware that they are rich and on a hunt. She thinks herself their equal in worldliness, confident that her beauty, which she has used to toy with many men, will see her through an encounter with any of them. Appetite watches her amused glance and snickers inwardly knowing that like everyone uprooted and thrown into the thousand universes that are Nairobi she belongs to many and yet to none – she longs for anchor and is seeking it without recognizing her desperate need. She has one of those new fangled Rasta hairstyles made of artificial hair. This strange combination at first puzzled Appetite who had only ever seen locks in pictures of Bob Marley and Dedan Kimathi. He has since come to realize that they have nothing to do with political struggle. They are a flag for a painful process of self-remanufacturing, a response to any one of a thousand traumas faced by the child of a middle or upper-middle class family that has tumbled to genteel poverty. Such girls always tell teary tales of the mistakes Daddy and Mummy made as the to-be-Rasta attended some fancy private school and then went abroad to find Me, he feels a surge of hatred. They make for the easiest prey. He knows how to lay a trap that allows them to feel the greatest degree of freedom even as the noose tightens – it is how they prefer to be ambushed. His first move must confirm her opinion of him and then there will be nowhere to go but up, all the while borne by her pleasant surprise.

‘You are a ngao and you need to imbibe liquids’
‘Yes, I need absorption because I am fleeing from the center – centrifugal as they say’
‘I do not know you, but I think that you are more centripetal – that you are seeking the center’
‘I guess so but what do you intend to achieve by these means of disturbance, surely not twinning?’
Ah, she has moved too fast, resisting even before he attacks. Vulnerability. Appetite is listening beneath her words, seeking food for the dark thing. And it is stirring, detecting that as confident as she sounds and looks there is a wistful undertone that betrays a need of something soon to be determined.
‘In the beginning was nursery and the sound of gasps and grunts when your Mummy left the house, then came primary school when you heard the impact of hand-cheek collisions. You need to know you were the critical element in the causation, it was your fault,’ he breathes as he opens his legs slightly wider so that she is standing between them.
‘What is your name and why are you here seeking to still your misery?’ Her question betrays her ignorance; does she not know she is conversing with desire?
‘I am Appetites son of Starvation.’
‘And I am Needs daughter of Fallen Success.’
‘You seek a port and slavery’
‘Perhaps I do, though I dare say that I believe it to be open sea and freedom’ she retorts with spirit. He feels a surge in his loins as the dark thing arrives in its full magnificence, it has not been this excited in months!

He loudly orders a round of drinks. And then slowly, as a hunter will part the reeds before delivering buckshot, he brushes a sweaty hand against her hip awaiting her reaction. She eyes him, eyes full of questions and suddenly turns to walk away leaving appetites staring at her receding back, the excitement in him battling with hatred. His companions are in full stride talking of plots and deals, and fat man versus fat man politics. They feed on so little he thinks; money to them is the thing. They want prestige and to be feared. How petty when there are souls to be taken and broken, do they not know how much energy there is in a human body that is expended at the moment of death? Appetite has learnt over millennia that there are many deaths and that he can draw succor from all of them. He ambles towards her, using his belly to push his way through the crowd.

‘I’ve been looking for you, Needs, do you know why?’
‘Yes, you seek flesh and what lies underneath it. You want to love me, and you resent me for that.’
‘I know exactly what you mean, you are perhaps wise.’
Appetites likes the way it is going.

(c) MMK 2005

The Matrix Redux: The African Version Scene III

Tree-Hugger Smith: As you can see, we’ve had our eye on you for some time now. It seems that you’ve been living two lives. In one life, you’re (Peter) Kamau wa Njogu, program officer in a respectable human rights NGO that is considering getting into the Maasai land thing. You fly to conferences monthly and write frequent proposals to the Swedes. The other life is lived in sullen resentment, where you go by the alias “Range Rover Driving Rasta Revolutionary”, or Boi.

Boi: How dare you, who are you to talk to me this way? I care, I really do…

Tree-Hugger Smith: Be patient, listen. You are exhausted with the futility of it all; the savages just won’t listen. They are so power hungry and corrupt and act in such bad faith, and they are so tribalistic. You have decided that there will be no global revolution, so you instead make grand personal gestures: a kind word to the security guard, and extra dollar or two to the gardener, “keep the change” to the waiter, and yoga on Saturdays. Does anyone understand how draining it is to make a $70,000 per year while partying in Porto Allegre and reading all that postcolonial theory to spout (impressively) at parties? Both of these lives have a bright future, Boi, they sustain my work here.

Boi: You can’t scare me with this Du Bois double consciousness stuff, by implying you know me or even worse by suggesting in your snide way that I am that part of Fanon’s post-independence bourgeoisie, which “…is not engaged in production, nor in invention, nor building, nor labor.” I know what’s up; I know that I am a part of a global progressive movement. Besides, who are you to question me when we are supposed to be in this fight together?

Spoon boy: Do not try and justify aid. That is impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.

Boi: What truth?

Spoon boy: There is no aid.

Boi: There is no aid?

Spoon boy: Then you’ll see that it is not the aid that’s bad, it is only yourself.

Tree-Hugger Smith: Did you know that the aid conferences held every week in a different city are meant to design a perfectly sustainable way to reduce African suffering to acceptable levels? Where none suffers to the point of extinction? Why don’t Africans get in line with NEPAD, agree to our dream for them? Frankly, it has been a disaster. They do not accept the programs in their entirety. Decades of development have been lost. Perhaps we lack the programming language to describe the world we are building for you: sustainable indigence. But I must admit that as Europeans, and here I include my African schoolmates at Harvard who are colleagues, we define our reality through African suffering.

Cypher: Jesus. What a mind-job. It just sounds to me like you need to unplug, man.

Mzee: Boi, you should be listening to Smith. I’ve seen a white aid worker burst into tears at the sight of a dead elephant and a winner of the Nobel Prize literally hug a tree… I’ve seen plenty that would boggle your African mind if it were free. People working for the aid industry have imbibed entire libraries and yet refuse to recognise the prison they guard. Men have expended entire intellectual and moral clips at them and hit nothing but hot air, yet their greed and blindness is still based on a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never solve your problems or own your victory.

Boi: For real Mzee, you’re starting to scare me.

Mzee: What is real. How do you define real? Are your little activist campaigns drawn from the African’s political body or are they impositions that even when positive ultimately rob him of his ability to shape his universe? Are you spouting global revolution only to rob the African of his revolutions? There is the world that you know and then there is the one that will one day exist. You will not birth the real, Boi, the world of tomorrow; you are merely a shadow, unreality, and a farce. Africa is to be delivered to her independence by that crude, tribalist, ignorant, poor, hustling, reactionary person who exists within a multitude of political communities that will burst into a thousand instances of violence and cooperation as they seek primacy and purchase. You will be swept away by this process because the anchor of aid that makes you so powerful today will make you irrelevant tomorrow.

Boi: AI? You mean my role in aid is artificial and doomed to failure?

Mzee: You are part of a consciousness that spawned an entire race of African servants: western liberalism of the right and left kind. We don’t know which of the two are winning. But we know that they are born of the same parent, that they would have Africans at the receiving end of their wisdom and would have us build our world in their image. At present, the left types, like Smith, are far more dependent on our misery and it is believed that they would be unable to survive the pouting and posturing that Africa’s allows them to adopt as they pretend to continue the revolutionary traditions of socialism. Since the world wars, when their brethren chose nationalism over revolution, they have been content to yoke us with their lifeless dreams – provided they are in charge.

Boi: No. No, Mzee. Don’t.

Mzee: There are conferences, Boi, endless conferences where Africans no longer think. For a long time I wouldn’t believe it, but then I attended a few aid meetings, engaged in cocktail chatter and considered how you came to this juncture. I listened as dead political categories were brought to life, heard the excitement caused by a post-modern political philosophy that chooses to obfuscate where clarity of thought and expression is required to inspire political action. I realised that they had lost their faith but none of their childish self-indulgence. Smith is part of a Western generation that is determined to thumb its nose at its parental authority (corporations and old white men: The Man) and uses our misery as its proxy and paycheck. Boi, I must tell you the truth: your attraction to ‘power to the people’ rhetoric, love of Bob Marley, Sartre and your vacations in Senegal are part of a new phenomenon: African flower power.

Scene IV coming up soon, watch this space…

Rock-star economics are not helping poor Africans

Franklin Cudjoe, a friend of mine from Ghana who I met in London last year, recently wrote an op-ed for the Daily Telegraph whose sentiments and analysis matched mine so closely that I begged him for a copy to put on this blog. The absurdity, nay madness, of rock stars holding forth on Africa’s crises has driven me to distraction. Not only are the solutions they advocate – increased centralisation of governance and begging – completely futile, but the fact that I am supposed to get teary eyed with gratitude sickens me. Poor Africa, isn’t it enough that you must endure war and poverty without being subjected to mediocre, over-the-hill rockers come to save you?

I think Franklin says it effectively enough though. Read on.

Personal view: Rock-star economics are not helping poor Africans
By Franklin Cudjoe (Filed: 18/04/2005)

Have you purchased your obligatory white band? Did Sir Bob Geldof send you an e-mail recently, reminding you to ogle his celebrity colleagues “clicking” away on television? Did you join the all-night vigil at Westminster Abbey to shiver in the cold and “wake up the government” about the need to “make poverty history”?

This year, the UK’s “development” charities have joined hands for a high profile campaign which claims that politicians have an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate poverty in the run-up to the G-8 meeting in July.

Rock stars and charities can be powerful advocates for good causes, and they generally have good intentions – but in many cases their lyrics do not genuinely rhyme with the silent hum of the very poor they seek to protect. Their economics are just plain wrong. They ignore history, peddling the misguided belief that poverty, famine and corruption can be solved with foreign aid, debt relief and other policies that have already failed Africa.

One pillar of their current campaign is to eliminate farm subsidies in western countries, a noble goal which indeed would help to achieve a level playing field for agricultural producers around the world. Yet this view is rife with hypocrisy: the same organisations promote subsidies (what they call “fair trade”) for farmers and businesses in poor countries to shield them from the effects of competition.

Coldplay frontman Chris Martin has said that Ghana’s rice, tomato and poultry farmers need to be protected from cheap imports. Yet the problems of Ghana’s farmers lie elsewhere: they and other entrepreneurs are stifled by punitive tax regimes and the high cost of capital, not to mention our disarrayed land tenure systems which lead to low crop production.

Neither Mr Martin nor fellow celebrities have mentioned these problems: they claim that the world’s trade regime is “rigged” in the name of “free trade”, harming poor countries like Ghana and benefiting interest groups in wealthy countries. The only solution, they say, is to protect local economic interests.

If we did ban rice and tomato imports, just how would we feed ourselves? Ghanaians depend on rice as a major staple in our diets, yet local production caters for only 30pc of the rice we consume.

Subsidies to local producers also mean fewer choices for consumers. The average Ghanaian has suffered because of shoddy goods made locally by protected industries that do not face any competition. Who can blame consumers for buying higher quality and less-expensive foreign goods?

Indeed, some savvy Ghanaian businessmen have helped both local farmers and consumers, for instance by providing locally produced rice in packages that ensure the rice isn’t stale when it reaches the consumer. Similarly, other Ghanaian entrepreneurs now collaborate with their Italian counterparts to produce tomato paste brands with Akan names, Ghana’s widely spoken language.

Protection for local producers also means that African countries trade very little with each other, as illustrated by the World Trade Organisation’s 2001 statistics. Africa’s share of intra- and inter-regional trade flows to western Europe alone was 51.8pc, while it was a paltry 7.8pc within Africa.

Development charities loathe international agencies such as the IMF and World Bank – many people would agree though that dealing with these agencies is like playing with loaded dice. They have empowered our politicians to engage in shady liberalisation deals, where international contracts are rigged to favour their cohorts with fat kickbacks.

Such agencies have often advocated ill-conceived policies in the name of market liberalisation – while they simultaneously push foreign aid and flawed development strategies onto us. Even the average Ghanaian knows that these “reform” programmes have achieved nothing other than to enable our bureaucrats to procure gold-plated Mercedes for themselves and their cronies.

But the real problem is not the IMF, World Bank or “rigged” trade rules. The problem lies with us as Africans and especially our leaders, to improve our own wellbeing, and to encourage economic growth through political and institutional reforms.

The solution to all that ails us is not aid, debt relief or “fair trade”. It is to adopt institutions to harness the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in every African country, to enable Africans to trade with each other and anyone else in the world.

Establishing property rights would be an important first step; an effective, transparent and accountable legal system is another. Combined with respect for private property and the rule of law, these broad reforms would encourage entrepreneurship, trade, innovation and even environmental protection because they empower people – rather than the politicians.

As our economies grow and develop, people will be able to afford better technologies, clean water, superior energy sources, better healthcare, and insurance. But one is unlikely to hear such ideas from rock stars and development charities.

While these high-profile campaigns continue to blame western countries for our poverty, they simply give our own politicians more excuses to delay badly needed institutional reforms. Poor Africans would be far better off without rock-star economics.

• Franklin Cudjoe is director of Imani. He will speak at the Global Development Summit in London on June 28

Ryszard Kapuscinski: Bullets&honey says it is a storm in a teacup

Dear All,

I could keep silent no longer. This storm over Kapuscinski is occurring in a tea cup, and it is only right that it should be so for the man and his writing occupy no greater a space despite his book being folded into every Peace Corps do-gooder’s back-pack. The reason I say this is that Kapuscinski is only one of a vast Western army mining Africa for its misery like others do its oil and precious stones. He is therefore in the final reckoning a symptom, but one with a turn of phrase, a nerdy hey-look-at-me-courage and an audience of hungry journalists, aid workers and liberals hanging on his every morsel of misrepresentation to make their baby vulture selves feel just a little better.

Kapuscinski actually strikes me as more pathetic than dangerous for the dangers that many Africans face are of far greater magnitude than this man’s seat in an a little panel being held in New York City. I have often attended such panels for the visceral thrill of feeling wonderfully alive while observing unintentionally absurdist dramas. I am willing to bet many shillings that the panel droned, ponderously and self importantly on the IMPORTANCE OF THE WRITER and his place in making sense of evil and violence or laughter and resistance or poverty and music or HIV and film or the Girl-Child and Fela Kuti. It does not matter what they discussed because Kapuscinski and Soyinka or Rushdie, all of them, were performing: entertaining an audience that had paid good money and drank pre-wisdom wine and dressed in black – this after all is Manhattan. They held their chins, chewed on their spectacle stems, drunk some Evian water and generally held forth as they had on a thousand other panels to the very same spectators. Even the gasps of delight and outrage were scripted for everyone on the stage had been carefully selected for this purpose.

Meanwhile in Ituri, a brother was sharpening his machete, hitching up his trousers, cocking his much-used AK-47, getting ready for a bit of sport. This dude has nothing to do with Kapuscinski, and may even one day boil him when he fails to take the last flight out. That for sure would cement his reputation: he was soooo intimate with Africans, knew them inside and out actually, and now even resides inside the belly of one…

It has often struck me sadly that part of the reason that Kapuscinski survives his trips into war zones is that he is white. Were I to postpone my return ticket to ‘civilization’ in a bid to write a last-one-out-of-hell story alongside him, I would almost be guaranteed some steel and pain. Why this is so is puzzling to me, and feels like risky ground to explore. It is only one of the many issues that I think that our thought and energy can be devoted to productively. Kapuscinski, and his place or non-place in panels, is of little consequence. He is on them precisely because what he thinks of Africa dovetails quite well with its place as the hell that assures the west that it is heaven. Of course this does not mean he should not be challenged but one needs an awfully large amount of energy and time to do it with any consistence.

My suggestion: throw this stuff out there so that a few of his eager beaver fans can turn on him and with the time that liberals of all stripes seem to have now that they are consigned to the margins, they will hound him all over the world. I can see the pimply faces peeking above fair-trade T-shirts; accompanied perhaps even by a few earnest dreads huddled on the steps of a PEN event with little signs saying NO LIES KAPUSCINSKI. Perhaps even a radical or two taking up the call of No Justice, No Peace or some such slogan. The result of course would be that Kapuscinski’s speaking engagements would double as would his audience, this time drawn by the delicious prospect of controversy.

We live in a world that promises solutions for every ill. But there are few for Kapuscinski and his nonsense. You can neither speak truth to him or his audience for they are engaged in an act of eating and savoring his racism, without which the fruits of their wealth would be much diminished. Miserable Africa is needed desperately and Kapuscinski is actually an aid worker providing goodness and relief to the parched western soul. I am determined to offer no solutions for there can be no African response to Kapuscinski: the very concept of talking to him as an African I find to be a waste of time. It is a tug and pull over a place and a concept that makes little difference to individual life, notwithstanding the so-called Africa policies and initiatives which are nothing but grand delusions and Trojan horses for western aid liberalism and its little African servants. I want to deal with that brother with the AK, what does he want I would like to know and why does white skin, in my impression, seem to shield you from his machete? Ah, so many questions, such a short time, so much urgency, but not for Kapuscinski.



Ryszard Kapuscinski: The Debate Starts to Sound Academic

I have been fascinated and excited by the debate that Binyavanga Wainaina started with his letter protesting Ryszard Kapuscinski’s depiction of Africa and Africans throughout his career. His foil is Remi Raji of the Nigeria PEN Center who writes with erudition and intelligence, arguing that Ryzard’s participation in a PEN event in NYC should not be “muzzled”. The rest of the debate or discussion if you are a diplomatic type can be found on the sidebar and on this post – always reading from the bottom upward… Read on and let me know what you think.

Hi Binyavanga,

Let me take off from your other “confession” and say that it is necessary to look here, beyond the immediacy of the present affliction, that is the subject of our mutual but different concern, the cause of this unplanned dialogue: Kap? It is important to look beyond the Kap phenomenon and perhaps look inward and ask, where are “we” in the share of ideas of power, or rather, in the power of ideas. Here we tug at a very serious issue of the collective, that is the “African condition” (I am not sure if this is the forum to deliver so many pregnant worries, pains and aspirations); and I can only add that the current rule of such species as the likes of Kap, in the media/culture wars, and many others before him, is the unfortunate result of incapacitations, inflicted and self-inflicted, strewn all over the continent.

Saturday in New York has passed but many other Saturdays in America, Europe, and Australasia will come… We will continue to witness such viral claims of journalese pretending as great literature, at the expense of a race, the othered members of humanity whose nights are still inscrutable and mysterious to behold? We will continue to witness these and other ignominies because our own system of challenge is not coordinated, because the apparatuses of state are wont to turn the other eye, and because the continental intelligentsia has been isolated and denied any significant play in the course of the re-definition and redemption of the State; our skepticism will multiply but will not count if we fail to speak at the right fora and opportunities. What for instance is the African Union without its programmatic punch? And what is a Diaspora divided against itself? The inflation of such blighted imagination as Kap’s did not start in a day, and will not end, suddenly. It goes a long way. But if you don’t believe in “the free-flow of ideas”, how can we make sense to one another? I hope that this journey is not taken in vain. Sincerely,


Hi Remi,

I must say I am enjoying this conversation. Thank you for your insights, and willingness to take this journey with me… Another confession: the secret gagger in me wants him tied and bound, but I know this to be futile and unhelpful. Why does the instinct to gag rear its head?

Because any African knows the particular flavour and danger of his kind of language. It is responsible for many deaths. It is the language that seeks to justify your incapacity, to distance your humanity from his centre. Now, much of what he says, Remi, and this is where the threat of Kap is at its most dangerous: that even though a twelve year old African would laugh at some of his propositions, the very nature of his language is compelling to the exact person he wants as a readership: the liberal European, American who has never been to Africa, and who has deep inside him, built by the ideas of Conrad and Blixen and CNN and countless made for television Dramas, an idea that Yes the African is indeed a strange being, maybe even a child who needs a firm (but loving) hand.

Ryszard Kapuscinski is the intellectual leader of this community, who, sadly (and if his writings were only about affecting the minds of Europeans, I do not care) have a huge effect on our lives. Now. A large part of the history of Africa has been decided by a well-armed and powerful Europe, with a well-armed and compelling ‘way’ of seeing us that justified their actions. Talk to any Reuters or AP journalists based in Africa: Ryszard Kapuscinski is their guru. They put out news that dominates the coverage of the continent to the rest of the world….and their primary source to ‘understand our minds’ is Ryszard Kapuscinski.

So back to PEN. By asking why they invited him, I was not suggesting they gag him – his books are widely available in mainstream bookshops all over Europe and America. Penguin love him, and publish him. But, there are many great writers. What I ask is, Why Kapuscinski?

Is PEN America’s open-mindedness so open that they would invite a known and racist and bender of well-documented fact to their most important event? Where the ‘select’ are called?

How are we to read this? Am sorry. I find it hard to believe that the effect of PEN’s action will be an ‘exposure’ of his falsehoods. What they have done is to ‘validate’ his point of view: to say that there is Meaning and Good in his body of work…and any criticism that comes from such an event will simply show that there is another side to a writer who has already been certified as a “great truth teller’ by PEN themselves…

Whatever happens in New York, he will add to his CV, and get better and bigger book-deals, and have more ‘authority’ than he had before… I wish I believed in the inherent free-flow of ideas that would suggest that, as (you say) the Yoruba say: “A lie may journey for twenty years, soon Truth will break its spell, in one day”.

In these days of spin and the power of one broadcast to reach a whole world, the truth is that it is those closest to the nerve centre of ‘the broadcast’ who will impose their truths on the rest of the world. This is how KAP got to his lofty perch. This is the method that will keep him there. Salman Rushdie, a man I thought had quite a good nose for bullshit says this about KAP:
“Kapuscinski’s writing, always wonderfully concrete and observant, conjures marvels of meaning out of minutiae.”

(Binyavanga Wainaina)

Hi Binyavanga,

I believe we are reaching an interesting point about the phenomenon I choose to abbreviate as Kap. And for that I will be brief. No, I have not suggested that we should not “protest” what others (including ourselves) write about “us”: on the contrary I am saying that when we do so, we should understand the difference between monologues and dialogues. I personally care less about what Granta and Mr. Harding have to say about their own “product”; and of course, I do not speak for PEN America but I do know that Pen’s charter does not approve of any intent to “gag” the other. Rather, it is in a forum as the one you’re attending that the truth can square up to lies and distortions. As the Yoruba say, “A lie may journey for twenty years, soon Truth will break its spell, in one day”. The simple fact that a Wole Soyinka would “share” the same arena with Mr. Kap will tell you that the symbolic day is nigh…

So there, I read, I write, and I teach writing. And I will be delighted to read your novel about this new experience!

Remi (Raji)

Hi Remi,

Thank you for your response.

I write for a living. The question of representing the world I come from is, of course, uppermost in my mind. All I am saying is that I find it difficult to understand why Ryszard Kapuscinski should be speaking at Pen’s gathering this week. The truth is that Kapuscinski occupies a central role in the minds of many (including the PEN American centre). In their minds he is “one of the world leading writers”

It is this that has got him the invitation to New York, to share a strange with people like Wole Soyinka, and Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie.

Of course we will continue to write. But are you suggesting avoiding protesting what others write about us, simply because our writing will ‘replace’ them? That is not true. Conrad is as influential now as he was then … and Ryder Haggard is still in print…is still available in AFRICAN libraries…

The very act of inviting him validates what he stands for and has written to readerships and literary communities who seem not to know better. Jeremy Harding is familiar with Africa, having lived there and he thinks Ryszard Kapuscinski is the ‘Greatest Intelligence to Bear Upon Africa Since Conrad.’

So here I am. In his writing the man insults me, the continent I live in; manufactures facts, and makes sweeping racists statements about the nature of ‘my mind’ – turning the African Mind into some sort of below-the-line not quite human (for a human to be of self-criticism makes him not human I think). He can publish this boldly, without editors cringing (in Granta!)

It is important for us to speak to falsehood and to speak loudly. I do not see the logic behind an argument that says that one’s only response should come from one’s writing.

This is all taking place in 2005, in a conference organised by a ‘culturally’ sensitive, progressive organisation supported by many open-minded and intelligent writers from around the world….

So I am maybe trying to understand PEN America’s reason for inviting him: that maybe everybody’s voice should be represented? Even the unreconstructed racists? His short and snappy sentences?

Or the larger truths he has brought out that make his Victorian attitude towards race somehow palatable?

Is there not, somewhere, a line drawn?

I am asking is it possible that now, a hundred years after Conrad, after years of Achebe and Soyinka, somebody can get away with saying:

“The European mind is willing to acknowledge its limitations, accept its limitations. It is a skeptical mind. The spirit of criticism does not exist in other cultures. They are proud, believing that what they have is perfect…”

Is this how PEN promotes ‘understanding between cultures?”

How very progressive!

I must write a novel about it!
(Binyavanga Wainaina)

(From Remi Raji)
“…Having ‘sympathy’ for Mr. Kapuscinski suggests that he has ‘lost’ something – is the ‘victim’ of something- whereas the truth is the victims are those he chooses to distort with his pen…”

Thank you for the response. This is exactly my point, if I must say it in another way. Mr. Kap has indeed “lost” something that all explorative writers should cherish: the ability to see a part of his own world in the prism of the world he tries to portray, and he’s in fact the victim of his own loss or inadequacy. And this is why many would not agree that the writer here is an expert on African issues.

Those he chooses to distort with his pen are not without their own writers and chroniclers, and therefore the point is for us to have the chance of contending with several perspectives (of facts and lies, naming and mis-naming, of fiction written as truths…) on the same subject. The same continent that fired the “truthful” imagination of Rider Haggard, Joyce Cary and Joseph Conrad is the same one which propelled the “fictional” world of Achebe, and of Ngugi, la Guma, Armah, Ba and the rest.

It is good to see through the media game and the wars are so contentious, but then, you can’t stop the subjectivities of some kind of writer by merely saying it; as a writer, you have to out-write him, the same way a generation of African writers has done with considerable success. Yes, I am not too skeptical about this bit, because I know for every one racist there are eleven anti-racists to give one hope, for now and for the future.

Remi Raji

The Matrix Redux: The African Version Scene II

Scene II

The continuation of Scene I of the Matrix; The African Version. The first scene can be found in the March archives. Enjoy and could someone please teach me how to link stuff!!

Mzee: The aid industry is everywhere. It is all around us. You can hear it every time words like sustainable, indigenous, governance, NEPAD, Humanity and wellness are used, or phrases such as fair trade, me-time, evils of globalisation and capacity enhancement. You can see it on every 4×4 with a logo on its door, in the raw tuna salad and the cocktail of diet coke with a dash of St. Petersburg vodka ordered by the healthiest looking person in the most expensive bar you know. Missing that, you can see it when you turn on your television: it is a declaration issued at a giant conference in Porto Allegre, Monterrey or Beijing; there, you are told, a consensus on your future has been reached. You can feel it when you go to work…just before you are downsized, when you listen to politicians now perfectly arrayed into government, opposition and civil society. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Boi: What truth?

Mzee: That you are a slave, Boi. Like every African you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

Boi: Okey dokey… free my mind. Right, no problem, free my mind, free my mind, no problem, right…

Mzee: This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You follow the baby-boomer flower leftists in their attempt to foist their failed revolutions on you: the story ends, you develop some African capacity, give micro-credit loans to gutsy women you admire, rage at Starbucks, and believe whatever Tree-Hugger Smith wants you to believe. Open your eyes and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

What is aid? Control. Aid is a liberal generated dream world built on the vision of an individuality that is universalised in the image of Smith. It is an attempt to extend a legal and moral code that is everywhere similar. It is contemptuous of the political life of the African, believing as it does that he does not possess one. In the final analysis, it is the vulture that uses African misery as an orientation of its identity: they must be seen and see themselves to be good. Distress is the balm on the wound of a liberal nihilism that everyday rots further as Smith battles to reach for goodness at no cost to his privilege. It seeks control in order to change an African into this.
[Holds up a Mojito cocktail and a picture of a laughing child in a refugee camp]

Boi: No way. No way. This is crazy. But I know Fanon by heart and I am down with the people.

Mzee: I didn’t say it would be easy, Boi. I just said it would be the truth.

Boi: But…listen, I have to think about it all. You’re heavy man. Besides, I have to rush; I am meeting Tree-Hugger Smith in a few minutes so I’ll ask him what the deal is.

Scene III coming up soon, watch this space…

The Honesty of Marathon Running: Paula Radcliffe Takes on Susan Chepkemei

I am just watching the London Marathon which unsurprisingly is entirely focused on Paula Radcliffe who has won after pulling away from the pack on mile 5 and relentlessly piling on the pressure since. Susan Chepkemei is trying to keep up and not being quite able to stay with it. Of course I am pulling for her as a Kenyan and also because I had the privilege of meeting her in August 2004.

She told me how she had broken the world half marathon record in Lisbon three years previously. She won that race by 30 seconds and told of how she had doubted she would even finish due to the fast start and her not feeling well! That she went on to destroy the field is a testament to her courage and to the combative spirit Kenyan runners possess. I had always thought that world beaters, winners and record holders start out their endeavors as winners. So it was a surprise when Susan related how much of the race had been run with nary a thought for the record – she just wanted to salvage her pride by not backing away from the challenge.

Running is war. A war that ruptures muscles, destroys pride, dissolves knees. It is a sweaty, smelly war: Radcliffe for instance squatted to empty her bladder mid-way through the race! Then, in a moment that is a priceless lampooning opportunity, this is what she said about the incident on a BBC interview: “I think I need to apologise to the nation for having to stop like that but I was losing 10 seconds every time my stomach cramped up.” “It was a similar problem to Athens but there was no danger of me being glycogen-defeated again. I knew if I stopped I would be able to get rid of the cramp and concentrate properly again.” Apart from the humor though, imagine the desire for victory it takes to squat for a pee with millions watching and a nation’s hope on your shoulders.

Running at a championship level comes down to honesty. When the pain is increasing with every step and your opponents rhythm hints at yet to be tapped reservoirs of strength, you must be honest about who you are. The pain and pressure strips away pretence and those that manage to hold onto them rarely become champions. If Kenyans like Susan have such honesty, where did it come from? It is certainly not drawn from the country’s elite of robber barons and their hangers on. It does not come from any aid or development policy. Nor from foreign knowledge. Sitting with Susan at the posh Java Coffee House in Adams Arcade, surrounded by mwa-mwa-mwa kissing Kenyans and expats, no one seemed to recognize her. She is probably better known in Europe than she is in Kenya, especially middle class Kenya. And I think this is because Kenyan runners are drawing on sources of inspiration and belief that are anathema to what the country has become. The runners are honest, disciplined, tough, organized and talented. The country’s leaders and the class they are drawn from (see my March essay: Babylon System is the Vampire!) are dishonest, brutal, disorganised and need no talent to maintain their mediocrity and robbery.

The results of the race: Radcliffe in 2.17:42 followed 5 minutes later by Romania’s Constantina Dita. Then came Kenyans Susan Chepkemei, third, and Margaret Okayo.

I will make another entry shortly on the men’s race and Martin Lel who won by running a personal best, meaning that he run the best he has ever done when the pressure was at its highest. Why is he not a hero in Kenya?

Ryszard Kapuscinski: Binyavanga Replies to Nigerian PEN Centre

(Binyavanga’s reply to Remi Raji of the Nigerian PEN Centre)

I agree. Mr. Ryszard Kapuscinski has a right to believe and write what he wants; and so ‘gagging’ him makes no sense to me. What is important is making our own voices clear about how we see our world.

I am far more skeptical than you are about his motives, and have less sympathy. His frequent manipulation of generally acknowledged fact signals to me one who chooses to bend reality to suit his preconceived notions (or notions he wishes to perpetuate). I do not believe his distortions to be the well-meaning exoticisations of a ‘naive’. With each book his boldness has become more apparent…

It has become a great tradition in literature and in the media to make careers over reporting on the ‘unknown’ – mostly because one can avoid the kind of upfront criticism and scrutiny one gets from reporting from within one’s source country – to the same audience…

Having ‘sympathy’ for Mr. Kapuscinski suggests that he has ‘lost’ something – is the ‘victim’ of something – whereas the truth is the victims are those he chooses to distort with his pen. And those who buy into his ideas and perpetuate them, and decide how to see Africa, based on his eyes…

The pen is a powerful thing…

Many thanks,

Binyavanga Wainaina

Kapuscinski: Nigerian PEN Centre Replies to Binyavanga

Dear All:

Thank you for bringing this to specific attention. There is indeed reason to shudder at some of the statements credited to Mr. Kapuscinski about Africa and cultures “other” than European, but these things are not new. He has been pinned to the memory of Mr. Conrad but I doubt if his energies or talents are close to the name. However, the invitation extended to Kapuscinski should not be considered a great source of alarm or terror the way I understand it now: it is his writings that must be given equal space and challenge as the writings of other authors who are Africanists or Afrocentric. Of course, there are ranges of Afrophobia, Afropessimism, and Afrophilia which you can’t gag or sanction, but which we have to deal with for, I predict, another half of a century. This is why I consider the statement of Mr. Dickson Migiro to “gag him” (itself sounding as a Conradian quip in “Heart of Darkness”) unnecessary and out of tune with the real spirit of free expression.

I have scanned through one or two interviews granted by Mr. Kapuscinski, in search of references to Africa, and have come to some preliminary understanding of his mind-set. He was fascinated by an idea of an imagined, monolithic African eldorado; he had the rare opportunity of contact with moments and places in the real Africa, and soon the subjective fascination of the writer blurred the objective sense of the journalist in him. In short, he is a factionist and sensationalist. For this, we need not ask for the guillotine but sympathise (if not challenge) with his too-familiar colonial opportunism.

Asking for a “fatwah” is to invite cheap and further popularity to the reprehensible imagination. What’s left? Let the true Africanist with an informed view of Africa talk back to the likes of Mr. Kapuscinski wherever they are. Talk, not gag.

Remi Raji
— Nigerian PEN Centre pennigeria@yahoo.com

Parselelo Kantai wows them at the Oxford Literary Festival

On Thursday (14/4), I went to Oxford to listen to Parselelo Kantai read at that city’s literary festival. Other than being one of my closest friends, Parsa is a hell of a writer: he is Kenya’s best journalist in my opinion and was first runner-up in the 2004 Caine Prize for African Writing. The reading was held at the Holywell Music Room, which an elderly English woman primly informed me was the oldest concert hall in Europe, built in 1742. She went on to add that Handel might have first performed there and listed a couple of other famous composers and musicians to have appeared on its stage. I was struck by how connected she felt to an event that happened hundreds of years ago – so much so that she said it with a kind of genteel boastfulness. I think to a large extent places like Oxford have become to the English a much needed reminder of accomplishment and glory in a time when a sense of group purpose is increasingly rare. Anyway, let me get back to Parsa’s reading. In the near future, I will post a little piece I have been thinking of called ‘The Soul of the Englishman Harbors a Little Accountant Holding a Form in Triplicate’. There is a rant there that must get out.

Parsa was reading with Brian Chikwava who was the 2004 Caine Prize winner. There was a healthy audience of 150, most with that faintly anxious, earnest expression of the liberal who loves LITERATURE. Parsa read an excerpt of ‘The Story of Comrade Lemma and the Black Jerusalem Boys Band’. (See the link at the bottom to read the story.) It is a short story of a man who in the 1960s wrote an enormously popular song, but has since descended into poverty and obscurity. He is discovered and promoted by a condom company representative who with the collaboration of the media is determined to use his story to move on up. Kenya’s story in a nutshell: the use and abuse of heroism and hope. The reading was gripping and Parsa was looking seriously bohemian in his Lenin cap and beard.

The scene was surreal. Parsa reading a story about a man tossed aside in Kenya’s rush to ‘modernize and develop’ our way out of the slums of the Comrade Lemmas of this world. A story of a man ignored, and possibly even broken, in his country’s bid to become Oxford, read to an appreciative Oxford audience. It was, as the oracle said in the Matrix, enough to bake my noodle. I wondered how Comrade Lemma is appreciated back in Kenya. Is it translated with the same tools that the Oxford audience was using to reach their murmurs of approval? Does it matter? I suspect that the Oxford audience was hearing a great story of a lost hero found, and an amusing take on the absurdities of African nation-building. The poor urban Kenyan, on the other hand, would have received the reading like the re-opening of a wound. It would have talked to him of how the patriotism felt by so many in the heyday of independent Kenya was stillborn, a perversion. How the colonial state continued unhampered, this time staffed with black personnel wielding pan-African rhetoric rather than the mzungu preaching British exceptionalism. The fate of Comrade Lemma, ignored one moment, exploited the next, would have reminded most Nairobians of what their government does to them daily. In Oxford, Parsa, I realized, was a talented performer who tells a good story, and of course there is nothing wrong with that. But in the Kenya outside posh Westlands, Comrade Lemma is a revolution: a painful and entertaining story of who we are. I think it needs to become a play, a movie and that the Comrade Lemma song needs to be heard everywhere.

Just before did his thing, Brian Chikwava treated the audience to his latest short-story: a hilarious comedy of manners set in a village in the midst of a witchcraft feud. He later sang and I enjoyed sitting there, in that old building, hearing an African producing so much beauty. It felt like I had gone far from home, into the heart of a foreign place, only to suddenly encounter home again. When I needed it most.

The link to Comrade Lemma is below and I will post some pictures of the reading the moment I figure out how to work the technology…


Kapuscinski: Binyavanga Wainaina’s Rage in Manhattan

Dear Friends,

I am in the US, on a reading tour and just found out that Ryszard Kapuscinski will be speaking at various fora in New York City starting on Saturday the 16th of April 2005 – invited by PEN America.

(Read this extract from the PEN Charter:)

MEMBERS OF PEN should at all times use what influence they have in favor of good understanding and mutual respect among nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class, and national hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in the world.

I have read with astonishment the lies Ryszard Kapuscinski peddles about Africa – and his growing ‘authority’ on African issues. He has been called by Jeremy Harding of the Evening Standard:

“The Greatest Intelligence to Bear upon Africa since

His books are widely read by Development types; are recommended to journalism students all over the world; the big news networks encourage their correspondents to read Kapuscinski to understand the ‘African mind’. He is a one of the most influential sources of reference for Aid workers and policymakers on Africa. He often speaks about the continent to people who make serious decisions about us.

And he is a fraud. A liar. And a profound and dangerous racist.

I urge you all to forward this to all concerned African and writers you may know; and to email a protest to PEN International and any and all media, blogs and literary publications you may know…

I have the following emails of Pen International offices in Africa and around the world. I do not know which will be most effective. If anybody needs to contact me my US telephone number is: 202 390 6216

I suggest we bombard them all with a protest.


Binyavanga Wainaina

info@internationalpen.org.uk,info@internationalpen.org.uk, pen@pen.org, antonio@pen.org, bridget@pen.org, journal@pen.org, andrea@pen.org, nasst@dircon.co.uk, rudebs@icon.co.za, intpen@dircon.co.uk, info@internationalpen.org.uk, faridah@dhaka.net, penclube@ig.com.br, sylproct@coppernet.zm, info@internationalpen.org.uk, mwpen@sdnp.org.mw, penkenya@ndima.org, mackay2248@yahoo.com, faridah@dhaka.net, fearnley@waitrose.com,
gyorgyey@aol.com, ccomarts@utlonline.co.ug, info@pensweden.org, sudaninexile195@hotmail.com, rudebs@icon.co.za, anthonyf@icon.co.za, sierraleonepen@yahoo.co.uk, memgoree@sentoo.sn, shbali@packages.com.pk, pennigeria@yahoo.com, penkenya@ndima.org, antonio@pen.org, bridget@pen.org

Think Bush is cynical? Check out France in Ivory Coast

The French have been on a moral high horse since the American invasion of Iraq. They have been joined in their age-old pursuit of American bashing by other Europeans and a smattering of African urban ‘sophisticates’. French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, he of the square jaw and aristocratic mien, was on every television channel, patiently explaining the primacy of international law in regulating the foreign policies of states. It was, he said with much huff and puff, fundamentally immoral to ever take military action against another state without the approval of the UN Security Council if not in self defense. Well. If America broke international law to invade Iraq, then it must mean that France’s 3,800 soldiers in the Ivory Coast under a UN peacekeeping mandate must reflect French high moral standards, right? Not so, says Boubacar Boris Diop writing in Le Monde Diplomatique. France’s present role in that benighted country is only the latest chapter in its colonial misadventures in Africa. Praise for international law by the French has its roots in a desire to allow them to remain global players in a period when they are increasingly unable to hold as much sway as they used to. The ideals the likes of Villepin proclaim so proudly are in reality geopolitical machinations to subject American power to European dictates. In the 19th century when the tables were reversed, it was America that was heard to call for a rule of law in the international system. My point in going into all this is to caution Africans from reacting in knee jerk fashion when their former colonial masters try and recruit them as allies in Western power struggles. Follow this link to see how Boubacar Boris Diop has broken it down. You know what? I really have no technical skills so I do not know how to create links within these posts – help! So just go ahead and click on http://mondediplo.com/2005/04/10diop

Yvonne Vera’s Obituary

Last night I was Instant Messengering with Gimbiya Kettering, my newest friend who told me that she had just heard of Yvonne Vera’s death. Gimbiya, who is a great fan of Yvonne’s, told me of the powerful emotional and aesthetic impact on her of books such as Stone Virgins. Below is an obituary for a bright flame extinguished in the prime of life, to be missed by a Zimbabwe and an Africa that is in dire need of her unflinching gaze.
mato kima

(Her titles: Without a Name, Under the Tongue, Stone Virgins, and Butterfly Burning. These novels were widely recognized, translated into seven languages and Vera won the 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region), 2002 Berlin Literature Prize (work in Translation), and 2002 Macmillan (UK) Writer’s Prize for Africa (adult fiction).)

Yvonne Vera

A tongue which no lover lives, no longer weeps. It buried beneath rock.

My tongue is a river. I touch my tongue in search of the places of my growing. My tongue is heavy with sleep. I know a stone is buried in my mouth, carried under my tongue – Under the Tongue, Yvonne Vera

Bulawayo is the second largest city in Zimbabwe, the cultural and economic hub of the western region. In 1964, when Yvonne Vera was born it was a township in Southern Rhodesia. When she left in 1980 to go to York University Canada, Zimbabwe was celebrating its independence. She returned to the city to work as the director of the National Gallery, and began writing her novels. Her poetic lyricism has immortalized the city and its inhabitants.

My first exposure to Vera was on a course syllabus, when Butterfly Burning was assigned in an African Writers Course. I had grown up in Africa and in literature courses had studied Achebe, Ngugi and Saro-Wiwa. But, it was only when I was a graduate student in Washington DC, in a course taught by an American, when I first came across Vera’s work. In the campus bookstore, I bought a trade-paperback edition of the slender novel. Its cover was elegant: a butterfly pattern that reminded me of Dutch-wax print cloth and a naked woman crouched on the cover, looking at the ground before her. It was a few months before I took it from my stack of semester-reading, expecting an easy read. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Vera’s prose is poetic, language so graceful that it cannot be read quickly. Each word demands its own time and its own meaning. I was halfway through the book before I realized that I didn’t actually know what it was about. In class the next morning, the professor summarized the plot of the novel so that we could discuss its themes: abortion, rebellion, dreams, and suffering. I took notes furiously, promising myself that I would find all of this in the novel when I reread it. Two readings became my reading pattern for Vera’s novels: First for the beauty, then for the story. The two only coming together after I closed the book, shut my eyes and allowed her words to flow over me.

Vera was unafraid of writing about the reality of life in Bulawayo, where many suffer poverty, violence, and despair. She took on the taboo subjects of rape, incest, abortion and the position of women in her country. Yet all of this is done in such compelling language that a reader gains hope in the strength of Vera’s characters. It is her novels that took her writing, and eventually Vera herself, out of Zimbabwe.

Her life seemed intertwined with Zimbabwe’s. She was born in 1964 when Ian Smith became prime minister and a year later declared independence under white rule. In 1980, when the Black African population won its independence, Vera left to read for a doctorate from York University in Canada.

I knew she had been in poor health. But I imagined her as a writer-in-exile, her eyes and her heart turning back to Zimbabwe as she tried to write about the place and people so important to her. The distance must have caused her pain. I imagine her broken-hearted, wasting away with homesickness. If I have used images more fitting to a novel than to real life, I suspect that Yvonne, whose characters’ vivid lives made ours brighter and better as a result, would approve.

Gimbiya Kettering

PS: Please go to the African Review of Books for some good reviews of Yvonne’s work. Use the link below:


Reviewers Expose Kapuscinski’s Falsehoods

John Ryle in the Times Literary Supplement



“In this mode of writing – the tropical baroque style – nothing can be ordinary or familiar. Everything is stretched and exaggerated the opposite of home. As Kapuscinski has himself written elsewhere of South American baroque. “If there is a jungle it has to be enormous… if there are mountains they have to be gigantic… if there is a plain it has to be endless… Fact is mixed with fantasy… truth with myth, realism with rhetoric.” The direction of his blurrings and inventions and exaggerations becomes clearer in the light of this inadvertent self-criticism. Africa is a continent without bookshops, he avers. Its rulers are illiterate. Its inhabitants are prisoners of their environment, or of their bloodline. They are afraid of the dark. They live on milk. (Who knows? They may have heads beneath their shoulders too.) Thus Europeans can never really understand them; they can only marvel at them. With the last suggestion we are approaching the true nature of Kapuscinski’s enterprise. It is an outgrowth of the one historical experience that the inhabitants of this hugely various continent do have in common with each other: the experience of colonization (or military occupation) by European powers. Despite Kapuscinski’s vigorously anti-colonialist stance, his writing about Africa is a variety of latter-day literary colonialism, a kind of gonzo orientalism, a highly selective imposition of form, conducted in the name of humane concern, that sacrifices truth and accuracy, and homogenizes and misrepresents Africans even as it aspires to speak for them. “

Aleksandar Hemon for the Village Voice

April 19th, 2001


He seems to have also mesmerized the editors of Granta, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books, which all published lengthy excerpts from his book, oblivious to or uninterested in the underlying proto-racist essentialism that ultimately casts a shadow on The Shadow of the Sun.

Kapuscinski’s stated ambition is not to write “a book about Africa, but rather about some people from there.” He is careful to say that Africa is “too large to describe,” adding, “Only with the greatest simplification . . . can we say ‘Africa.’ In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist.” In an early chapter entitled “The Structure of the Clan,” Kapuscinski acknowledges that “in all of Africa, each larger social group has its own distinct culture,” which is why “anthropologists never speak of ‘African culture’ or ‘African religion, ‘ knowing that . . . the essence of Africa is its endless variety.”

But Kapuscinski is no anthropologist. In the face of his own feeble disclaimers, he quickly plunges into making generalizations about “the African.” For example, “The European and the African have an entirely different concept of time,” he announces early on. Africa might not be a single conceptual unit, but “the African” somehow is. “Let us remember”—he writes—”that fear of revenge is deeply rooted in the African mentality.” “The African” to Kapuscinski seems transcendental and trans-historical, even when he acknowledges the horrors of the slave trade, which “on the psyche of the African . . . left the deepest and most painfully permanent scar: the inferiority complex.”

“The African mind” is largely defined by its difference from “the European mind,” a difference that has metaphysical consequences: “In Africa, the [Christian] notion of metaphysical, abstract evil—evil in and of itself—does not exist.” The difference is deeply rooted and practically unalterable: Kapuscinski seems to agree with an “elderly Englishman,” a longtime resident of Addis Ababa who believes “the strength of Europe and its culture . . . lies in its bent for criticism. . . . Other cultures do not have this critical spirit. . . . [They are] uncritical in relation to themselves . . . [laying] the blame for all that is evil on others.” “They are,” seethes the elderly Englishmen, “culturally, permanently, structurally incapable of progress, incapable of engendering within themselves the will to transform and evolve.” For Kapuscinski, as for the Englishman, the real difference and disparity between races is in “the mind,” rather than skin color—he fumes against the racism absurdly based on skin color, and would probably be shocked if told that his obsessive listing of essential differences is essentially racist.


Saturday 16th April 4:00–5:30
Where: The New York Public Library, South Court
Auditorium: 5th Ave. & 42nd St. (Enter on 5th Ave.)

Confronting the Worst: Writing and Catastrophe (SOLD OUT)
Svetlana Alexievich, François Bizot, Caroline Emcke, Philip Gourevitch, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Elena Poniatowska; moderated by Susie Linfield


700–9:00 pm
Where: The Town Hall: 123 West 43rd St.

The Power of the Pen: Does Writing Change Anything? The twentieth century was a long quarrel between those determined that the answer should be yes and others who feared that the writer’s engagement in the world would diminish art without improving politics. The goal of this evening is not to answer the question but to find the words with which we can begin to think it through.

The New Yorker hosts an evening of readings by Margaret Atwood, Nuruddin Farah, Jonathan Franzen, Ha Jin, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Salman Rushdie, Shan Sa, Wole Soyinka, and others; introduced by David Remnick.

Misericonomics: Who Will Win the Nobel Prize for this One?

There is a Commission for Africa that has just released its report. Bob Geldof, its chairman, has gotten a shot of fading publicity on the back of suffering Africans.

Is it unreasonable to argue that Africa’s greatest resource is its suffering?Bono, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Kofi Annan and other more junior members of the International Do-Gooder Club (IDGC) waste few chances to lecture audiences on their moral responsibility to the benighted African continent. Capitalized words like Justice, International Community, Conscience and Humanity are thrown about with reckless abandon. More radical members of the IDGC, safely making pronouncements between grant applications to the same institutions they purport to loathe, prefer to use Neocolonialism, Racism, the North-South Paradigm, Resistance and Solidarity. Their African counterparts have formed the International Beggar Elite Club (IBEC). They don’t care what words are used as long as the conclusion is Cash Money.

What both these clubs agree on is that Africa is blessed with a wealth of natural resources; if it is on the periodical chart then you can bet that a miner can find it somewhere beneath the continent’s blood-soaked soils. Lest they be accused of being rapacious neo-imperialist corporate types, interested only in exploiting this natural wealth, the IDGC never misses a chance to praise Africans as the greatest resource, as a people whose potential will one day be unlocked by capacity-building development programs.

On the thesis that Africa needs charity to throw off the deadly shackles of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – ‘it’s an emergency not a cause’ according to the ever-funky Bono – many billions of dollars in the last three decades have traveled from the pocket of the western tax payer. But what these secular saints do not mention is that Africa’s gold, coltan, diamonds, uranium, oil and copper, to name just a few, pale in value when compared to the continent’s single greatest resource: its misery.

While Asia, for one, is awash with profits made from the old fashioned and thoroughly discredited economic logic of buying and selling stuff, the IDGC and IBEC have hit on a new means of production. It is called Misericonomics or Misery Economics for the uninitiated and it operates like a giant employment and enrichment scheme for the two clubs.

This is how it works. First you need lots of death, disease and poverty for as many Africans as possible. This is easy after a few decades of yet another Western effort to save Africans from the communist embrace of the Red Bear left them saddled with brutal dictators, awash in cheap weapons wielded by rebels whose manifesto, shared by the governments they opposed, amounted to, ‘give me Cash Money and I press trigger’. The Africans have also been enthusiastic in the pursuit of maximum suffering by inventing forms of conflict that could teach trained CIA and KGB agents a thing or two. Whoever is to blame for the suffering, its supply is growing: many African countries are getting poorer at a time when most regions except parts of Western Europe are enjoying buoyant economic growth.

The next necessary condition for Misericonomics is the linkage of African suffering with Western paternalism. This is achieved by polemics blaming the West for Africa’s dire straits – by way of Neoliberal-driven globalization, slavery and colonialism – or hectoring it to act out of concern for a shared humanity. It does not matter whether the reasons are genuine or not, the point is to prepare the western taxpayer to fund the aid effort which has grown into an annual industry worth over $7 billion and that the clubs now propose be doubled. The final element of this new economic paradigm is for upwards of 30% and often far more to go into administrative costs for the IDCG while a significant amount of the remainder is commandeered by members of the IBEC.

Samuel Fosso, Africa Remix 10 February – 17 April 2005

Untitled - Click for more info

Untitled, 1998

Is there such a thing as African art? Africa Remix answers

Behind the mask

by Mark Irving (The Times Online, January 15, 2005)

Naive, primitive? African artists have outgrown these labels. Why haven’t we?

The centre of the contemporary art world is, as we all know, London. It’s also New York, Berlin, Los Angeles, Shanghai and many other places because contemporary art doesn’t let geography get in the way of a marketable commodity. But it’s certainly not Africa. When did you last hear of an African artist — one working in Africa — making headlines? This is both weird and sad, when you consider that 100 years ago artists such as Picasso and Dérain “discovered” that African culture could offer something new and vital to the avant-garde.

Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907, one of the 20th century’s most important works of art, owed as much to Africa as it did to the artist’s revolutionary vision. The problem is that just as a major season of events showcasing contemporary African culture opens in the UK, with related exhibitions in Germany, France, Japan and the US, our view of African art remains, for the most part, shaped by the stereotypical cultural references — totemic masks, shields, ritual semaphores — that intrigued Picasso and his peers. For them, the value of this “primitive” art lay in its supposed authenticity, in the open window it gave to man’s inner world.

In the contemporary art world, however, sophistication and irony are what count. Authenticity is something that art gallery press releases might splash into the mix, but it is rarely the leading theme. In this context, an artist’s work being “authentic” is a synonym for untutored, possibly ugly, certainly naive, but you would never hear people admitting to this. Yet somehow, when it comes to contemporary African art, we find similar terms used by the curators and collectors who have organised and lent to these exhibitions.

“There is a certain innocence about art produced in Africa, although this is changing with the internet,” says Jean Pigozzi, a Swiss entrepreneur who owns one of the largest collections of African art. “I’m impressed by the directness — the brushworks, the narratives that are evident. But there are so many double meanings in the paintings and work. There’s a lot of subtle humour running through it,” says Peter Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the venue for a large show of Pigozzi’s collection this month. “Overall, there is a great sense of involvement in human issues, less formal, self-conscious detachment,” says Roger Malpert, senior curator at the Hayward Gallery, where Africa Remix, the largest exhibition of contemporary African art seen in Europe, opens next month. You would be hard pushed to find these glowing words being used to describe work shown by any of the leading dealers of contemporary art.

Does this mean that art being produced in Africa and in the West is judged according to different standards? And if it is, does this matter? “As an artist born in Africa, but with no urge to bear the burden of the African artist,” the artist Hassan Musa wrote in 2000, “I know that the only opportunities open to me to present my work outside Africa are of the ‘ethnic’ type, where people assign to me the role of ‘the other African ’ in places designed for the kind of seasonal ritual where a certain kind of African is ‘in favour’.

“It is a situation which is not lacking in ambivalence, and which gives me the impression of being a hostage to this strange machine that integrates African-born artists into the world of art, while at the same time shunting them off into a category apart. What, then, are these expectations of European aesthetics that encourage Europeans to invent their own version of African art? It is an African art that Africans never see, because it is often produced in Europe for those Europeans who collect it, exhibit it and make it an object of aesthetic reflection.”

Pigozzi, who since starting his collection in 1989 has made it a rule to collect only work by living artists working in the sub-Sahara, disagrees. He says that he has learnt a lot from Charles Saatchi about collecting art and sends his curator to find and nurture talent on the ground in Africa.

But Pigozzi collects only work by black artists, even though Africa is home to artists of many races. “South Africa is too European,” he says, insisting however that there is “no compassion, no social or political motivation” to his collecting. He refuses to lend his collection to ethnographic museums as he considers the distinction between fine art and ethnographic artefacts to be crucial, although I find it one that’s difficult to make when confronted by some of the works in his collection, since some employ materials, forms and symbols that seem familiar to the ritual objects you would find in any ethnographic museum.

While African artists now make the Turner Prize shortlist and photographs by Africans Malik Sidibe and Seydou Keita are hot property, art by other African artists working with clay, straw or supermarket rubbish is perhaps less widely appreciated. The irony is that in the hands of artists such as Antony Gormley, Joseph Beuys or Thomas Hirshhorn these materials are used to produce work that is readily accepted as artistically valid.

The art market sets the true test of what the art world thinks about contemporary African art. “It’s not significant now in sales percentage terms, but in the long term it will be,” says Ray Hughes, a leading dealer in the field based in Sydney since 1992. “I think so much of international art — produced by the Goldsmiths colleges of the world — is cannibalistic, about art eating art,” he says, referring to the Chapman brothers’ most recent exhibition, which lampooned McDonald’s with a series of painted wooden sculptures that mimicked traditional African artefacts. “In Africa, they find a way of embellishing their lives and customs. It has a real purpose,” Hughes says.

Prices for contemporary work from Africa are beginning to rise, and major museums are starting to buy. The British Museum’s £23,000 purchase in 2003 of two of the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s massive cloths made from bottle tops is one example.

“The world has become a bit more open about African art. There was a time when African artists would say ‘thank you’ when included in a show. Now they can dictate what they want in an exhibition,” says Simon Njami, the co-curator of Africa Remix. “The show will force people to address the idea that ‘those people are so poor, they have other things to deal with than art’. As long as we are human beings, we have to deal with pain and poetry, and Africa should not be limited to just fighting against poverty.”

Africa Remix, Hayward Gallery, London SE1, Feb 10-April 17 (020-7960 5226; http://www.hayward.org.uk)


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